October 30, 2007

Georgetown Protest Gets a Wide Variety of Coverage

Two weekends ago the city was marked with several protests, some that erupted into violent actions. My parents were in town visiting and we were up for some DC shopping and dining in Georgetown. Forgetting that a friend of mine had told me about the protest a month before, we headed down to Georgetown for dinner and were surprised to find most of the shops boarded up, cops all over the place, and soon after we arrived the street blocked off to traffic, all because of a protest against the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. After walking a little ways down M Street and finding most of the stores boarded up, we decided to find somewhere else for dinner. We missed most of the action, but I heard later that it erupted into a somewhat violent protest, a few storefront windows vandalized and a woman injured by a brick. I later learned that the protest was staged in Georgetown not only because of its vicinity to the IMF and World Bank, but because of the wealth concentrated there. It was an anti-capitalist protest as well as a protest against the World Bank and the IMF. I was interested to see what kind of coverage the event would have and was surprised to find not only the normal mainstream coverage, but also a large amount of alternative media coverage. The blogosphere was filled with response to the event. Many of the posts were however strongly opinionated with phrases such as " LEFTY PROTESTERS IN GEORGETOWN STICK IT TO THE MAN by hitting a woman with a brick: and "Leftwingnuts Make Voices Heard By Hitting Lady With a Brick".
I checked out http://tailrank.com/3402876/Woman-Hit-With-Brick-in-Bloody-DC-IMF-Protest and found a whole website dedicated to tracking the "hottest news in the blogosphere" and filled with a sampling of blogs dedicated to the Georgetown protest.

Radical Cheerleading: A New Means of Activist Expression

“Squad set?” yells Emily.
“YOU BET!” we respond.

She calls out the cheer and we begin. But this isn’t just any cheerleading squad yelling for their football team. We’re the DC Radical Cheerleaders and our chants have nothing to do with team spirit. We scream for stopping climate change, resisting capitalism’s domination, smashing the state, and liberating ourselves from patriarchy.

We don’t look like your typical cheerleaders either. We dress in full red and black. Instead of skirts and vests we wear leggings, t-shirts, dresses, and safety-pinned patches. We wear bandanas around our necks and write RC/DC proudly across our faces. And most of all, we are excited to cheer.

We assemble downtown on Saturday, September 15 to participate in A.N.S.W.E.R.’s March on Washington to end the war in Iraq. In solidarity with the many demonstrators, we circle up and begin to cheer. We begin with “George,” a crowd favorite that ridicules President Bush and the actions he carries out in the name of the “war on terror.”

Dub dub dub dub dubdubdubdubdubdub dubya bush
The shrub!

He says the war on terror
Will make the world fairer
But we know that he’s lying

‘Cuz we see innocents dying

Your civil liberties
He’ll take away
He’ll spy on you all night and day!

‘Cuz I’m a terrorist and you’re a terrorist
And she’s a terrorist and he’s a terrorist!
Its terror! AH! Its terror! AH!
But what is terror anyway?

Nuclear destruction
Genetically modified food
The IMF, the World Bank

It’s all bad news!
Damn, them fascists are some heavy, heavy dudes.

Resist, Resist
Raise up your fist!
Resist, resist
We know you are pissed
Resist, resist
Fight the capitalists
Resist, resist
Show ‘em what they can kiss! Uh!

Of course, no simple listing of these lines can do the cheer justice. Just imagine twenty women yelling, clapping, kicking, and moving. The energy, even on this hot afternoon, is contagious. Crowds gather around us as we cheer. They ask us who we are, because many of them have never seen a radical cheerleading squad perform before.

Conceived by three Florida sisters in 1996, the radical cheerleading movement has spread across the country and across the world. The first radical cheerbook, published as a zine in 1997, describes it as "activism with pom-poms and middle fingers extended. It's screaming 'fuck capitalism' while doing a split." It is a type of Guerilla Theater—attention grabbing and exciting. In the midst of a serious political demonstration, we energize people and provide entertainment. It’s a unique form of activism that’s empowering and fun.

Throughout the day we move through the crowd, performing many other cheers for our fellow protesters, including “Ugly” (about corporate greed), “Hot In Here” (against global warming, set to the tune of Nelly’s song Hot In Herre), and “369” (against the World Bank / IMF). Two other cheers, “Supersonic” and “Fraggle Rock,” are below. One of the highlights of the day was confronting the counter-protesters, the Gathering of Eagles. We were able do drown out their conservative chants with our radical cheers. We also took a break from cheering to dance along with the drum circle. Dancing is great for morale!

After a few hours of cheering and marching, the protest is over. We return to AU, tired but satisfied, and ready for the next action, rally, or demonstration where we can showcase our cheers.

The D is for Deception
The U is for Untrue
The B is for BS, girl you know he lied to you
The Y is for Your war
A we Asked you to stop
The B is for the Bombs nobody asked you to drop

George Bush
Su-see ya later

The B is for our Bodies
The U is for Unique
The S is for Safe sex,
George you know the kids all freak!
The H for Human rights
And the M for My
The F for Feminism waving you buh-bye

George Bush
You motherfucker

Hey George Bush,
Can’t you see
That my body belongs to me!

(Set to the tune of the TV show's opening song)
Take it to the streets
Revolution is so sweet
Something we expect
Is freedom and respect

So radicals of today
We need to find a better way
We need to have a say
Equality’s the way

So stomp and smash the state
It’s time for us to liberate
And Bush can go to hell
Rise up, resist, rebel

For more information on radical cheerleading, click these links:

Jimmy Carter on Darfur

[this post was originally written on October 25th]

I managed to get my hands on one of the elusive Jimmy Carter Engagement tickets and at 1:13 yesterday I saw the former president in person for the first time.
As he walks out on stage, I realize just how courteous, lithe and inspirational the man really is. He waves at us all, accepts the uproarious applause with grace, and of course starts with a joke –he’s already three times better than our current president. As he begins to dive into his speech, the recital hall falls wonderfully silent, save the sounds of camera flashes and shutters. Secret Service, Metro Police and Campus Security stand with their backs to the stage, watching the audience for potential security threats. Their presence isn’t enough to overwhelm the optimism of Carter’s speech, however.
He finishes his story about a New Yorker cartoon and the importance of being an activist ex-president and launches into a discussion on the involvement of the Carter Center in elections, leaders, food and mental health concerns in developing nations around the world. From there Carter speaks about The Elders: Kofi Anon, Nelson Mandella, Desmond Tutu and himself, among others –“political has-beens” he jokingly says. Burma, Zimbabwe and Darfur are the focal points of activism among The Elders. Carter then begins to speak exclusively on the topic of Darfur and the efforts he’s led through both the Carter Center and The Elders to raise awareness of the “crimes against humanity” occurring in Darfur and to “find permanent peace” between northern and southern Sudan. He rejects the term “genocide” in discussing the Darfur question because –he argues- “while the government is culpable” for the atrocities committed upon hundreds of thousands of Darfuris, “the government has not orchestrated [those attacks]”.
Within this very serious discussion, however, the climax of Carter’s speech comes when he says that the momentum of American foreign policy and international opinion of the United States can –and should- change within the half hour needed for a new Democratic president to deliver his or her inaugural address. Carter suggests that five things must be said. First, the new president must declare that the United States will no longer go to war unless there is a direct threat to our national security. Second: that we will no longer torture potentially innocent suspects and hold them accountable to American law without providing them with American rights – full, boisterous applause follows this pronouncement. Next, Carter calls for peace in the Middle East and an increased concern for the environment in “combating global warming”. Carter’s fifth and most important suggestion for the new president’s inaugural speech is a promise to “raise high the banner of human rights” –more applause follows.
On the whole, Carter’s speech reminds me of the importance of idealism in foreign policy: without hope for a better method of dealing with terrorists, ignorance, struggling economies and decreasing resources, what improvements in international relations do we have to look forward to in the future? What we need now is a president who can break us out of this self-destructive approach to foreign policy –power relations are immutable- and show us that there’s a better way to do business. We need a president who can unite our country socially (s/he must defend the humanity and equality between men and women of all sexual orientations) economically (s/he must refuse to sign resolution after resolution to send more and more U.S. money into the soil of Iraq and Afghanistan and instead funnel those dollars back into domestic programs) and politically (s/he must engender bi-partisan support for furthering social and economic equality at home and abroad). Perhaps with a president like that we may begin to solve some of the issues to which President Carter has devoted so much of his life.

Progress in Politics Forum

I'm sitting in the Butler Board Room at AU waiting for the "Progress in Politics Forum" to begin. The forum is sponsored by Women's Initiative and Students for Hillary and will feature 3 AU professor panelists: Sarah Brewer, Allan Lichtman, and Barbara Palmer. According to the AU Student Government Web site, the forum "will examine and discuss the past, present and future of women in American politics from a historical, political and feminist perspective."
These issues are important to expanding the diversity of political debate in America today. The increasing influence of women on the political process has the opportunity to transform political dialogue. This is especially relevant in light of Nancy Pelosi's recent election to Speaker of the House and Hillary Clinton's bid for the oval office in 2008.

The panel is beginning without Allen Lichtman, who failed to show up.
Director of Women & Politics Institute Karen O'Connor is moderating the discussion.

While the panel covered a broad range of topics from the first congresswoman (Jeanette Rankin, first elected in 1916) to the term of former supreme court justice Sandra Day O'Connor, I'd like to focus mainly on the panel's discussion of Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, and the challenges facing women running for national office today.

Palmer discussed whether we, as a country, have gotten past referring to Pelosi as "Nancy Pelosi, the first female speaker of the house," and now think of her only as "Speaker Pelosi." Palmer said when a journalist recently asked her this question, she was inclined to say yes, we have gotten past it, but then she recalled an instance this past summer when the media had a ball covering Clinton's cleavage. Often, the media will cover female politicians' clothes and families far more than they will for male politicians.

I find this appalling, and really, really annoying. Focusing on personal matters and fashion choices obscures the real issues at hand. Though Brewer said in the panel that Clinton does not get as much of this because she has been on the national political stage for so long. However, women's professional dress is a lot less standard than men's (I guess a blue suit and red tie wouldn't fly with Hillary. I know it wouldn't with me!), so we have a lot more room to be creative. Of course, this can create a distinctive look that some wayward journalist might actually think is newsworthy

Back on Pelosi, Brewer said that it is her duality of female stereotypes that contributed to her success.
"She's not the iron lady, but she's not just the grandma that everybody likes," Brewer said, citing Pelosi's traditionally masculine approach to leadership.
"Don't get me wrong, the fact that she's a grandmother of five is the reason she can get away with this.... shes a great transitional person in my mind," Brewer added.

After the panel, I asked Brewer and Palmer whether they thought a single, childless woman could succeed in politics without appearing too masculine. To me, it seems to be a lose-lose situation set up by gender scripts. Either you are weak and nurturing, unable to stand up in a political battle, or too hard and career driven, with no family values. In that case, you probably must be a lesbian too.
Brewer and Palmer cited two examples of young, childless women who have put their political careers first and are meeting with early success: Congresswoman Hilda Soliz of California, and Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth of South Dakota.
However, whether these women or others like them will be able to overcome these hurdles in campaigning for higher offices remains to be seen.

Finally, one interesting point the specifically applies to the topic of presidential debate is how a female candidate can appear strong and tell the American people what they want to hear. Many people seem to have doubts about how a woman would behave in the role of commander in chief. Palmer discussed a question asked at one of the earlier democratic primary debates. The moderator asked what each candidate would do if terrorists carried out 9/11 style attacks on major U.S. cities during their term. Obama and Edwards both said they would investigate who really committed the attacks before responding and would discuss options with foreign allies. Bush, Palmer added, would probably have said the same thing if he had been asked. However, Palmer said Hillary responded that she would bomb them off the face of the planet.
"I don't know if thats what she'd really do, but that was the answer that people wanted, and she got it right," Palmer said.

Does being a woman mean you have to give up what you may really believe in order to appear stronger, less "womanly?" Do women have to give up more to run a successful campaign than men?

Giuliani is most electable?

I've never been good about following politics, and to be honest, I never really cared that much. However, now that I'm eligible to vote in the next election, and because I live in the political capitol of the world, I deem it necessary to get involved and become politically aware. So last week I decided to thoroughly read about all the candidates running in the 2008 election, since I really only knew about them from headlines in the news (embarrassing, I know).

I am a registered independent, and my views do swing both ways, so I thought that I would be most impressed by Giuliani since he seems like the most moderate candidate of them all. However, I was shocked when I was reading about his policy views and how he feels about certain issues that are critical for the next election.

When I was reading about his views on "War and Peace" I felt as if he is a prime example of why foreign countries hate us and the epitome of the superiority complex that Americans have. In one example, he states: "Liberating the Iraqis is something we should be proud of" (http://ontheissues.org/Rudy_Giuliani.htm). As well (from the same site), "Negotiate with Iran, but fully prepared for force". and "We've never won a war while discussing how to retreat". I'm not intentionally trying to pick sides or say that Giuliani is ultimately wrong; however, I was shocked to hear how arrogant he seems to come off, when the whole time I thought he would be a little more liberal in his mindset when it came to the War in Iraq. I live right outside New York City, and I witnesses firsthand how he restored the city and what a people person he is, but this I was not expecting. I'm sorry but backing up your words in Iran with force just does not seem like a peaceful idea to me... I also can see why some Iraqis hate us so much.. because we did barge into their country and liberate them, and no one asked us to. I think that we definitely helped the country to take a step in the right direction, and their country did need to be reformed from its devastated state, but how would America feel if take France for example, barged onto our territory and dictated how the country should be established and ran politically.. Americans would be in an uproar as well. I felt as if Giuliani was very blunt and on a one track mind, when I felt as if he gave off different vibes in the past.

There is a new article out though stating the Giuliani is seen as the "Most Electable Candidate" and it could be very beneficial for the Republican party if he is the front running candidate, especially against Clinton, because a lot of Democrats/Independents who aren't ready for a female voter will vote for Giuliani since he is the most moderate. My question is though, if a major issue of the next election is the War in Iraq, will this be detrimental to Giuliani for those swing voters who don't necessarily want a female President, but are very anti-war as well, given Giuliani's views?

October 29, 2007

Gingrich Speech

I sat on the floor near the exit, off to the side near where the press sat at the FRC Action Values Voter Summit: The Washington Briefing. It was in a huge ballroom in the Washington Hilton in DuPont, which I found highly ironic. I had raced there, trying to make it in time to hear Newt’s speech. While getting set up to take notes, I was trying to change into red heels—appropriate, I figured, for one of the biggest conservative conventions of the year. Newt was the last speaker of the daytime session.
Enthusiasm rose as Newt was introduced as the former Speaker of the House, author of Rediscovering God in America, the Chairman of the Gingrich Group The Gingrich Group, and “a drum major in our march for a better future,” among his other accomplishments. Rock music played as he walked on stage and he was met with a standing ovation and thunderous applause. Ladies and Gentlemen, Newt Gingrich.
You know how in the press club speech we watched, Newt was very good at appealing to both sides, while still maintaining his conservative viewpoints? That was perfect for the National Press club. This speech was also very much tailored to the audience. He showed a lot statistics, most of which are available here. According to his statistics, 86% of all Americans believe there are certain values that unite us all. The statistics he cited mostly involved national defense, taxes, religion, and morality. For example, 85% of Americans believe it is very important to defend American allies. 89% believe religion and morality are important to their family. 64% believe that there is not enough religion taught in school. Only 8% believe that there is too much religion in school, “which” he said, “must be the size of the ACLU.”
Gingrich said that the “elite critics” misunderstand what the argument regarding religion in schools and in the nation is really about. He said he is not advocating theology to be taught in school, just political history. When Thomas Jefferson wrote The Declaration of Independence he did say that we are “endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights,” even if he was a deist. Newt also looked at Washington, who was a Christian and Benjamin Franklin, another deist, who called for a day of prayer during the Constitution Convention. Gingrich notes that Lincoln spoke of God fourteen times in the 2nd Inaugural Address, as is written in the Lincoln Memorial. FDR, during his radio talks to the nation asked his listeners to join him in prayer for D-Day.
He did not deny the need for separation of church and state. However, he clarified what he meant by that separation. He said that when Jefferson used the term, he was writing a letter to reassure someone that there would be no compulsory, state-funded religion above the other religions. “Good,” was Newt’s description of the separation of church and state. He doesn’t want the Government funding religion when it, “can’t even fund the Federal Government.”
Newt emphasized that The Constitution says “We the People,” not “We the Lawyers,” and not “We the Politicians.” He said that we lend the politicians our power, it is not theirs to legislate without control. We have the right to fire the politicians that are mishandling power every election.
From a purely political standpoint, Gingrich said very little. Other than mentioning that Immigration should be encouraged (but that the Immigrants need to become Americans and learn English), Newt mostly discussed American history from a Christian perspective.
On the way out of the conference, Newt had people handing out handouts to read the way a teacher does in a class.
To show how well his speech went over at the conference, after his speech—when Newt was signing autographs in his books and taking pictures with his fans, his book sold out completely.

Have We Lost the Edge? long blog post

I suppose it was coincidence or maybe fate, but the topics in the Streitmatter chapter presentations over the past week have coincided with a concert that I attended that got me thinking about political action and debate. The concert was of a band called Umphrey's McGee (which I had never heard before the concert but decided to go anyways because lets be serious, concerts rock) who played mostly upbeat, jam-band, Phish-style, music and I must say I had a good time. What got me thinking about politics however was a comment that one of the singers made about the lack of political action in DC. It was an innocent comment which was basically a liberal-drenched cliche about Bush being a moron and that we should "Get out of Iraq" and that it was our responsibility based on our geographical position at the time. The comment would have typically rolled right off me, but our classes' recent discussion of musicians as agents of political change got me thinking.

What Happened?

Where's our generations Dylan?

Where's our generations Hendrix?

What are our musicians singing about?

I must admit that I do not listen to much popular-mainstream music anymore (but honestly, does anybody else our age), but I can't help hearing it in passing every once in a while. What I have heard lately doesn't even compare to soulful and emotional rendition of "The Star-spangled Banner", instead it sounds something like a broken synthesizer regurgitating 1980's top forty hits. It is bothersome that our music has become commodified to the point that there is no longer room for politics or meaningful social issues.
Don't get me wrong however, I might be blind to a sweeping political music scene that is prominent to everyone but me, but I simply just don't see it. Sorry. Hear it. Maybe I'm tuning in to tune out, but I can't see our musicians now-a-days taking a strong political stance on something (sans the Dixie Chicks). Maybe I'm just jaded because I happen to be a fan of classic rock, but I'd like to see our musicians shed their politically apathetic images and start talking to the youth like the musicians of the counterculture revolution on the 60's.

October 28, 2007

Long Blog Post-White House Correspondents Event

For my long blog post, I decided to go to the event in Bender Arena that featured a moderated discussion between White House Correspondent David Gregory and Hearst columnist and former White House Correspondent Helen Thomas. The discussion revolved around a debate between the two on whether or not the White House Press Corps had failed the American public in its coverage of the Iraq war, specifically whether or not the hard questions were asked in the reasoning behind the war and if the press had given President Bush a free ride rather than seem anti-American or pro-terrorist.

Helen Thomas took the position that the press corps failed miserably, giving the president carte blanche approval to wage the war in Iraq under false pretenses without the slightest amount of journalistic inquiry or opposition but instead allowing Bush to use the press as an instrument by which to carry his message to the American people unabated and un-scrutinized. Thomas's stance was one of a virulent and unapologetic ultra-left wing Bush hater. For a good example of her political stance, take a look at one of the columns she has written at http://www.koat.com/helenthomas/8192106/detail.html.

David Gregory, as a current White House Correspondent, tried to remain politically neutral while maintaining that "the hard questions were asked." For information on Gregory, go to http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3688588/.

The debate was a very interesting one, albeit very polarized. In the blue corner we had the unapologetically Bush bashing Thomas and in the red corner we had the neutral and defensive Gregory.

To Gregory's credit, he made the excellent point of saying that the American people in general and Congress in particular were the ones who truly allowed Bush to invade Iraq. But beyond that, the only point he really seemed capable of making was that "the hard questions were asked." He also pointed out the niche culture mass media and particularly the internet have created that allows people to hear only the news they want to hear and only from the sources who present in a way they agree with.

Beyond those points however, Gregory said little that was truly substantive and not once did he ever say what questions were asked, only that they were. Truthfully, Gregory's defense of himself and the journalistic community came across as a very hollow one. His justification of how everyone let Bush get away with Iraq? "The country was in a different place after 9/11." To add insult to injury, when describing how news gets out, of all the possible sources and stations, newspapers and sites for information, one of the few examples he used for that venue was Fox News.

Thomas was not exactly perfect herself. While I completely agree with her anti-war statements, they came across as so strong that one might wonder if she's allowed herself to be blinded by her hatred of Bush. And then there was the point she made that while they were not in recent times, the hard questions were asked in Vietnam. Alas, they cut questions short before I could ask how she justified that statement even though the dissident press was decrying the war as early as 1954 while the mainstream didn't begin anti-war coverage until January and February of 1968 and that coverage was a virtual clone of the arguments the dissident press had been making for a decade or more.

Curious how historical retrospect can change present opinions. Scary as it may seem, press coverage seems to have actually improved since Vietnam. If you take Thomas's advice and absorb what she says with a grain of salt, the hard questions of Vietnam were asked , but not until 1968. It took 14 years for the mainstream to start against the war back then, it took much less for the modern press to pick up with anti-war coverage. Maybe progress has to come in very small increments over very long periods of time.

I feel obligated to try and tie this whole think back to my group's particular subject, being candidates positions. As far as that goes, you have to wonder what exactly a candidate or actual elected officials position is on the press. The press can and has been manipulated both here and abroad as both an instrument of support and opposition to those in power. All those running for office want the press to cover them more, and to do so in a positive light. The mark of a good journalist, I think, is how much said journalist allows those men and women to get away with it.
That is not to say journalists should automatically oppose those running for and holding office, only that they should be weary of being anyone's instrument save for the truth.

Newt Gingrich and subsequently Rick Tyler are of the position that the press should at most serve as time keeper in political debates, that the press coverage should only report, never introduce the topic of discussion. And whether or not the press highlights the topics that aren't as important as what the candidates want to discuss is a valid question. Other candidates treat the press with a similar attitude, and still others just want them to be carry their message to the masses for assimilation and subsequent support.

October 26, 2007

Humor Group -- Long Blog

I’m really not interested in politics. At all. When I graduate, I plan on moving to New York City and working at a fashion magazine or maybe a travel publication. It’s sad to say, but I pretty much get my news from The Daily Show or the Colbert Report. The humor aspect definitely appeals to me because if these shows weren’t so funny, I probably wouldn’t watch them.

I decided, after talking to Professor Walker, to ask a few friends some questions about what they think about political humor and whether or not it’s important to them. After talking to about fifteen people, I decided that everyone pretty much feels the same: humor is important because it’s what makes politics less about “those guys in Washington” and more real and appealing (quote from one of my roommates).

Most people said that it’s important to understand that these shows are biased. I think that unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past five or so years, you know that The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, South Park, and every other show that involves political humor is slanted toward the left. But yes, after realizing that these shows obviously have a liberal bias, the humor can be appreciated.

One of my other roommates said that humor is important because politicians need to be able to laugh at themselves and take all “the heavy stuff” that’s happening in the world and see the lighter side. I think that shows like The Daily Show certainly do this, but politicians themselves have not really shown their comedic side.

Anyway, I think that shows like the ones on Comedy Central are helping people like me by engaging us in what’s going on in the political world and making an otherwise boring topic much more interesting.

Last Week's Speaker

Live Blogging of Rick Tyler

Friday, I had an opportunity to be part of a presentation/discussion from Newt Gingrich’s press secretary Rick Tyler. So to fully understand the complexity, I attempted to use a diary type chronically of his time, kind of like what ESPN writer Bill Simmons does for sports games. So without further ado, here is a live diary with some interpretation of the speech:

11:21- introduction of speaker by Professor Dana Walker of American University. Rick Tyler has had success in getting people elected into political positions and host a radio show.

11:24- commences his speech by stating his shock that a press secretary for Newt Gingrich to come onto a college campus.

11:24- posed a question about how we, as college students, obtained their information concerning political information. Tyler stated that in his time he had few sources of news.

11:25-press secretary draws two circles comparing his live and a typical voter’s life. He shaded in most of his circle with the idea that politics takes up most of his life. He then made a tick like dot in the voter’s circle to make the point that they don’t pay much attention to politics.

11:28- Tyler stated that people are weird for watching shows like meet the press and listening to talk radio. Normal people do many other things before watching/listening these things.

11:29-Tyler starts a discussion about the first political debate between Kennedy and Nixon. People thought Kennedy won the debate on television and those who listen to the debate thought Nixon won.

11:31-Tyler posses the question of what is wrong with political debate. One person brought up the idea that candidates are too rigid and lifeless. Another point is that the candidates sound too rehearsed in a debate.

11:32-bring the mood down by talking about how we have many enemies who want to kill us and disrupt our lives. Tyler randomly brings up controlling our borders as a threat to our nation security. Tyler also discusses how we will have to come into struggle with China and India because they have 2 billion more people to work with. Tyler believes that if the US fixes a lot the “-tions”.

11:37- Tyler then asked the audience if they knew anything about social security and how we won’t get any.

11:38-Tyler brings up the point that baby boomers are the most spoiled generation in the history of the United States. He brings up the point that everything eventually goes down in price, except education and health care.

11:40-Tyler discusses the debate system as 9 people from each party lined up like seals waiting for fish from the moderator. He brought up the point that with primary debates, each party looks absolutely crazy from each perspective. Tyler feels a possible solution for this is the Cooper-Union Debate which is to get 2-4 representatives have a 90 min discussion and just talk and have a discussion.

11:44- Tyler brings up the point that the media gets the most talk time and they set the agenda. He implies that media chooses things that sell, but are not what people really wanted to hear about.

11:46-Tyler brings up Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck to describe how certain people will vote a certain part no matter what the situation.

11:48- Tyler brings up the person of the Bundler who can get lots of campaign money to run the campaign which basically wins elections.

11:49- Tyler brings up a point that the most valuable thing people have are thinking and planning time skills. He believes that people are lost and useless without these.

11:51- Tyler brings up the point that the media covers what they want to cover. Tyler also brings up that on 9/11, the media was covering Chandra Levy before 9/11 and how today, the media covered Paris Hilton and Brittney Spears ad nauseam rather then covering stories that are important.

11:55- A question was raised concerning campaign financing and how to fix it and really criticized a potential idea of giving free airtime. He brings up the point that candidates have the least say in their ability to finance campaigns.

11:59- Tyler proposed the idea that we should be more honest in where they get their money from. If a union or a company raises millions of dollars, then that information should be available on the internet for everyone to see it.

12:01- Tyler stated that two people responded to their invitation, Huckabee and Gravelli.

12:02- Tyler states that consultants do not know much about technology and history. How do you explain to people technology that will be outdated and how times will change.

12:05- Tyler brought up how an actual credit/debit transaction works. He uses this point to explain why we are frustrated with the response to Katrina and the length it takes to cash a Medicare check.

12:10- Tyler brings up the point that the private sector is so far ahead of the government sector, it is ridiculous. He brought up the point that voters do not care about the process, just the results. We recently have gotten to the point where we are fed-up with the dissidence between the government and people.

12:13- Tyler brought up the point that if people can communicate well, they will listen for 90 minutes but it will have to be interesting and captivating.

12:14- Tyler brings up the point that there are 39 or 32 pages of debate rules and some of the rules are ridiculous.

12:15- 9 90’s and 9- the idea of having 9 substantive 90 minute debates in the 9 weeks before the election.

12:18- Tyler would never want to see the censoring of speech and when people can campaign. He also liked the idea of using YouTube for debates, but not trivializing it.

12:20- Tyler was asked the question about if opening campaign contributions up the media would not be over played the way it is by having transparency.

12:22- Tyler feels that the media and campaign money determined the downfall of debates i.e. Clinton’s health care proposal. The media covered how it affects Obama rather then what is in the proposal.

12:24- Tyler believes that the candidates actually needs to state what they really are about by using their websites as a main hub for people to discuss. He would then want a compilation and have a blind issue poll and then candidates can then be affected for having a lack of substance on the websites. He believes that it is an idealistic concept, but he is

12:27- Tyler had to defend Newt in not running into the race. Ted Kennedy was asked why he wanted to be president and Kennedy had not real reason to be president. He also brought up how Giuliani talked about money raising when the host said hello and welcome and how were things going.

12:31- Tyler brings up to the point that people customizing how and where they are consuming their news. So two people in the same house can consume two completely different styles of news

12:33- “Slogans are fine if they have substance in them.”

October 23, 2007

Who's watching?

For my first long blog post I’ve decided to crunch some numbers. Yeah I know, it doesn’t sound so exciting at first. But I was curious to see how good (turns out I should say “how bad”) viewership among the American people is today, and also the trends that presidential debate viewership have been taking since the 60’s when the televised debate was first introduced. The Commission On Presidential Debates has records on viewership numbers going all the way back to Kennedy and Nixon.
Things started out OK. The four televised debated in the 1960 general election drew an average viewership 63.1 million people per debate. At the time, this averaged out to be nearly 35 percent of the population watching each debate. Viewership percentages fell slowly, and not too alarmingly through the 70’s and 80’s. In 1988 an average of 27.5 percent of the population tuned in each night.
The year America changed the channel appears to be 1996. An average of 41.2 million people watched the debates, that's a population average of only 15.5 percent at the time. Numbers from 2000 show that viewership was continuing to slow.
One thing I noticed in looking at all this was that Americans tuned in their greatest numbers for the 1960 debates between Kennedy and Nixon, and 1960 was the only election year to feature 60 minute debates. Every year after that the debate time was increased to 90 minutes. Is it possible that working Americans just don’t have those 90 minutes in their day to spare?
Early projections of viewership in 2008 don’t look too promising. The highest rated debate thus far has been Fox News Channel’s Republican debate in New Hampshire, which was seen in 2.47 million households. Debates held on CNN and MSNBC have fared worse.

New York Times takes a tip from YouTube

I was just scanning the New York Times website, looking for something of interest to post about, when I stumbled across an embedded video in the margin of the U.S. Politics page. The video is called "Republican Debate: Analyzing the Details". Not only is there a video transcript and an accompanying text transcript, but the debate has been conveniently divided up into clickable sections, such as: "Republicans vs. Hillary Clinton," "Health Care," and "Who's More Conservative?" Also, the good people at the New York Times have included a transcript analyzer, which lists the exact number of words spoken by each participant (excluding the moderator, Rudy Guiliani tops the list with 2158, while Jim Greer and Charlie Crist each have a measly 60), and which visually breaks up the debate into a weird, bar code-esque format. Talk about user-friendly.

When YouTube first exploded into the internet scene, being able to watch a news clip or political debate through a website at one's leisure was an exciting novelty. Later, as we learned from guest speaker James Kotecki, YouTube began to transform from a sort of political vessel into a political instigator. Now it appears as though the trend is catching on. I have no idea whether or not New York Times Online has been posting videos for a while now, but regardless--it's fascinating to see to what extent news sources are now attempting to cater to their readers. Now, not only are you not obligated to plan your evening around a scheduled debate, but you don't even have to watch all of it to find out what candidates said about issues that concern you.

The only negative aspect of this sort of convenience that I can see is that it could perpetuate--and probably even intensify--the closed-mindedness present in many debate watchers. When these people watch entire debates, they may choose to ignore opposing viewpoints regarding topics about which they've already made up their minds, but at least they're exposed to these opposing viewpoints. If more and more people are electing to pick and choose what pieces of the debates they'd like to see, then it will become less and less likely for watchers on each side of the political spectrum to challenge what they already believe.

WANTED (Dead or Alive): Modern Political Debate

While I can’t say that I was overly thrilled with or impressed by Rick Tyler’s discussion, I was intrigued by what he had to say about political debate reform. But before I delve into his propositions, let me begin by affirming my overwhelming dislike for the modern concept of a political debate. Every time I sit down to watch a debate (which is rare, sporadic, and generally only within a month of an election), I find that by the end of the night I’m just as disappointed as I’d expected. Rarely, if ever, do I gain insight into a candidate’s character, or learn something about them that I couldn’t have read, verbatim, from their campaign website. Usually each candidate is allowed so many seconds to respond to a carefully crafted and premeditated question that doesn’t come from their opponent, but rather, from an unaffiliated third party. Is this crazy, or am I?? I want to see the candidates and the candidates alone conversing with each other, asking the tough questions, and being capable of coming up with the clever answers on the spot. Leave the mediator at home, please. Cut the strict time limits and the tedious rules. I want to see a raw presentation of the person who could potentially be the next “leader of the free world,” (as Tyler referred to it through thinly veiled conservativism).

This brings me to Tyler’s theory of debate reform. Though he devoted a shockingly small portion of his speech to this topic (the drawings on the blackboard didn’t suffice for me), I thought he made some valid points. First of all, I agree, to an extent, that political debate between members of the same party can seem redundant and overtly liberal or conservative. I do not, however, think that this type of debate should be eliminated from the campaign process altogether. I think that this type of debate is fundamental and crucial for each party in determining who is best suited for the race, but I think there is definitely room for reform. Tyler went on to suggest that political debate should consist of one candidate from each party, on a stage, partaking in a healthy, unscripted, unsupervised debate. I definitely agree with this theory, and I look forward to the day that this debate takes place. However, I want to add to this dream and suggest that every candidate, and yes that includes candidates of the somewhat taboo parties such as the Libertarian or Green Party, be a participant in our nation’s notorious prime time debates. I think that all candidates, regardless of the status of their membership in mainstream parties, are deserving of our country’s attention and time. Needless to say, I hope to see in 2008 a variety of candidates in the debate scene, and with any luck, a lot less of the unnecessary mediator.

Not so revolutionary protest

A handful of protests were staged over the past few days in D.C. The protests were aimed at a slew of issues, including the war in Iraq and climate change, according to the Washington Post. Of course, dissident voices from the public are an important element of meaningful political debate; but, with so few palpable consequences, you really have to weigh the merits of public demonstration.

This isn't to say public involvement is futile, but frankly, an organized march in downtown D.C. just seems like old hat. Nothing is less revolutionary than a well-planned gathering. According to the Post, Monday's protest at Capitol Hill resulted in 59 arrests -- that's at least 59 people who care enough about the issues to put themselves at the hands of police. But how much news coverage did the protest result in?

The news media is supposed to provide the public with information they need to make decisions in their lives (according to a journalism professor here at AU. Thanks.) So, does the lack of coverage of these protests indicate that the news media doesn't think they're important? Can the public go on with their lives without knowing about them?

Maybe so. When there's seemingly (and sometimes literally) another protest every week, it's not really newsworthy. Maybe it's time for the public to use more creative methods for getting dissident voices heard. It seems to me that the Internet is a much more effective platform for protest. Sure, you can't replicate the visual of thousands of people coming together for a cause, but these days, who even cares to look?

Colbert '08

Last Tuesday, comedian Stephen Colbert announced that he was running for President in South Carolina on his late-night show The Colbert Report. A clip of his appearance with Jon Stewart (in which he spoke of running) can be watched at
Colbert will be running under both the Republican and Democratic parties in his home-state and, providing he files the correct paperwork by November 1st, will appear on the ballot.
While his sudden foray into the world of politics isn't necessarily surprising, it's definitely a humorous turn to the 2008 presidential elections. Stephen Colbert is not a serious candidate for the coveted title of Commander-In-Chief. He has said, since announcing his intentions to run, that he doesn't want to be elected President—he simply wants to run for President. When asked who will be his running-mate, he suggested such politicians as Larry Craig, who was recently embroiled in a sex scandal.
The candidacy of Stephen Colbert is, sadly enough, not going to impact the outcome of the actual elections in the slightest. It is his way of poking fun at the absurdity that is the American political machine. Constitutionally, there is nothing about Stephen Colbert that makes him unfit to be President. I personally think he could bring a much-needed sense of humor that is currently lacking from the presidency. A shift of perspective from politician to comedian might help revitalize the political infrastructure in the White House.
Stephen Colbert is truly a candidate without any political bias—the only views he represents are his own. His ultra-conservative caricature serves to both make fun of Democrats and Republicans. His goals are best put in his own words: “If, at the Democratic National Convention, somebody has to stand up and say, ‘the proud state of South Carolina, the palmetto state, the home of the greatest peaches and shrimp in the world, casts one vote for native son, Stephen Colbert,’ I’d say I won.”

October 22, 2007

Sexism in the Media

If the above video doesn't work, the link is here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Q3tjgaCBCU

I am in class right now that is mainly a study of feminism, so my sexism radar is highly tuned. After watching this video, I realized that feminism is still alive and well in the media.

The fact that this video cut out everything that Hilary Clinton had to say at this rally and focused entirely on her "rudeness" shows the lack of support that this particular media group has for a female president.

Also, the video showed the vast female support that Hilary has, and none of the male support. By no means am I a supporter of Hilary Clinton, not because I don't want a female president, but I'm just not interested in politics.

I, however, think its sad that the bias in media is so clear in a report like this. The role of a journalist is to be objective at all times, this report is not objective at all and shows the failure of mainstream media to hold up to its own standards.

I believe it is important that the flaws in candidates should be shown, but it should be fair ground. Hilary Clinton definitely has her flaws, but the reason this rally was staged was to discuss her main issues for her presidential candidacy. That is the news and should definitely be incorporated.

I'm not saying that the fact that Hilary "ignored" questions is not news, because presidential candidates have a duty to the public and should be informing them at all times, however, it is more important that her viewpoints on delivered to the public as well as her mistakes.

Maybe, this feminism class has gone to my head, who knows? But I couldn't help but notice the bias in this particular media publication.

October 20, 2007

Long Blog -- Humor Group

I am in the humor group for the blog. I think humor is really important in every day life, but it is especially significant when it comes to politics. Many people (myself included) are really bored by politics and tune it out. By adding a little humor, people become more interested and actually want to read or learn more about it.

The best example of political humor, at least for me, is John Stewart. I watch The Daily Show all the time and it literally makes me laugh out loud. People can feel put off my politics because they don’t understand it – at least that’s my reason – but by making fun of current events, The Daily Show makes me feel like I can understand it because it’s on my level. Politics is no longer some intangible, ambiguous “thing.”

An example of John Stewart’s humor, as if none of you guys have watched The Daily Show, is here: http://www.thedailyshow.com/video/index.jhtml?videoId=119424

Stewart’s “R. Kelly Impersonator” makes fun of Larry Craig’s bathroom scandal.

Stephen Colbert’s “The Colbert Report” is also really funny. Here is a clip from Colbert’s show earlier this week, after he announced his goal to run as president of the United States: http://www.indecision2008.com/blog.jhtml?c=vc&videoId=118636

There’s another funny Colbert clip, where the host fills out papers that he needs to fill out for the primary: http://www.indecision2008.com/blog.jhtml?c=vc&videoId=118638

I think that John Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s shows are really important because although they seem stupid, they actually spark the interest of people like me…Who otherwise really wouldn’t be interested or care about politics.

October 19, 2007

Force the Candidates to TALK!

Today I had the honor of listening to a brilliant and well-informed individual in my Dissident Media class, his name Rick Tyler, the press secretary for Newt Gingrich.

Recently Gingrich has challenged the potential candidates for president to open debates modeling the debates that Lincoln and Douglass had. He is calling for a Cooper Union Debate among the potential candidates for president.

Tyler said, “We need to come up with ways that force candidates to talk about the issues.”

What a brilliant idea!

This evening I am going to embrace that challenge and list some ways we can force our potential candidates for president to talk about the issues.

First I think the open forum, no rules debates are crucial. The two chosen candidates for the presidency need to discuss the issues face-to-face. Give the voters a reason to vote. Let us know what you think and how you are going to better this country. I am sick and tired of hearing about how flawed the competitions campaign is. Stop playing the limelight on the opposition. Shine the light on your views on the issues. That is what America is looking for.

Another way we can get candidates to talk about the issues is to start holding them to what they are publicly displaying, for instance, their websites. Look at them. Search their websites for their views and if they are not there be the watch dog yourself and call it to their attention. If we American’s stand up as united front to these candidates they can only hide behind their thirty second blurbs about the issues so for long.

Finally let’s take it to the Internet. Everyone is on the Internet, so let’s start getting the word out.

This blog was created to raise awareness to the people of this wonderful country that we need to stop settling for lame responses to important questions that effect our every day lives.

Who is voted in as the next president will have the power to change this country forever and I personally want that change to benefit me too.

So people of America let’s take it to the candidates! Let’s force them to have a real voice not the voice of the person putting the dollars in their pockets but a voice on the issues that affect us all.

News Media, Rick Tyler and Renewing Poltical Debate

Rick Tyler, press secretary for former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, spoke today in our Dissident Media class at American University.

Currently Tyler is working as a senior partner at Chesapeake Associates, a professional campaign consulting firm based in Washington D.C. He has experience working with various politicians, and thus plenty of experience working with the media.

Mr. Tyler addressed several issues of importance to modern American society; his main focus was identical to the focus of our blog, how do we renew real, open political debate in today’s society? He described the current political debates as “Nine candidates lining up like seals waiting for the commentator to throw a fish.” Mr. Tyler felt current debating rules need to be changed. He mentioned that currently the rule book contains some 39 pages of regulations, which include rules as to the type of pencil a candidate may use. “These candidates are basically applying to be the leader of the free world,” Mr. Taylor said, adding that 30 seconds for a candidate to discuss his views on the Iraq War is not nearly enough. Mr. Tyler instead recommended having two candidates, preferably from different parties so a sense of bi-partisanship can be achieved, placed on stage together for a ninety minute discussion. The moderator would play a small part, more of a time-keeper than a mediator.

Mr. Tyler also addressed the role the media plays in our current political atmosphere. Clearly, the media plays an important role in our society, and Mr. Taylor suggested using that to our advantage. One specific example he gave of how to use the media to the average voters’ advantage was to institute a weekly blind poll. Candidates’ stances on the important issues would be collected and each week a poll would be published that voters could take to see which candidate’s platform they are most closely aligned with. The media would then announce the results of these blind polls at the end of each week to see who had been the most successful. This would give voters more of a voice within the political sphere, as candidates would have to adjust their platforms to appeal to a wider audience.

To conclude Mr. Tyler discussed the importance of frank debate to America. Mr. Tyler said he feels that without real debate America will eventually fall apart. I would tend to agree our guest speaker’s views, unless some changes are enacted, and some form of real debate is achieved, American society will suffer.

Rick Tyler's ideas

Rick Tyler, spokesman for former Speaker Newt Gingrich, has some excellent ideas on how to fix America's broken system. His lecture in class today was extremely enlightening and set the ground work for some great ideas that we can implement that could affect the political system.
Mr. Tyler's comments on the media's role in debates are well heeded. Instead of allowing the news outlets to focus on pointless news stories: Britney, Paris, etc, we should instead force them onto coverage of actual issues. There are several ways we, as students an bloggers, can achieve this. The number 1 way is to boycott the news networks and begin a grassroots initiative to keep the boycott strong. If successful, this movement would force change in the way news, and political debates are covered. Without viewers, networks would lack the ability to advertise and therefore make money. Viewers would only come back once coverage was changed. Instead of letting the media control our news, we should begin to take steps to influence the media so they actually cover things of worth.
Mr. Tyler also suggested the use of blind polls in order to actually determine which candidates have a stance on the important issues in society. This is a much better approach to determine candidate positions than our current form of debate. What we are given now are simple sound bites and rehearsed speeches that actually contain nothing of substance. These polls, on the back of one-on-one bipartisan debates, would be a much better value for the American people than our current system. If the media and candidates were able to implement this system, we would be one step closer to fixing our broken political system.
Though he spoke about a great deal about other things, these two topics are of supreme importance. If we change the way in which news is expressed, and the manner in which the candidates debate, we will be that much closer to fixing the broken American political system. Mr. Tyler’s observances as to the problems of modern political society have laid the groundwork for a plethora of ideas that we can implement in order to affect change. All we have to do is run with it.

Rick Tyler and Renewing Poltical Debates

Rick Tyler is the Director of Media Relations for Gingrich Communications and serves as the spokesman for former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich . He is also a senior partner at Chesapeake Associates, a full service professional campaign consulting firm based in Washington, DC. Today, Tyler came into Professor Walker's class at American University to talk about campaign and debate reform ideas. Here is the gist of what he had to say:

While reminiscing about the Kennedy-Douglas debates, Tyler made it clear that the television is the dominate medium today. Whether it be through video on the internet or the actual t.v., a candidate's presentation is vital in any campaign. In asking the class what was wrong with today's political debate, people in the crowd all shared the same opinion that candidates seem rehearsed; they don't have any personal insight and don't come off as personable, therefore projecting a rather stale image.

The subject of Tyler's presentation soon turned to reformed debate. He echoed Newt Gingrich's plan to renew political debate in America. Through bi-partisan debate with less limitations Tyler believes American politics would greatly change. If candidates debated in a bi-partisan manner they no longer would have to pledge to follow every value of their party. Candidates would be forced to try and appeal to America as a whole, therefore opening up the door to connecting to the many voters who are in the middle. Tyler discussed Gingrich's plan and outline for the Cooper Union Debates. Gingrich invited all of the presidential candidates to participate. So far only Mike Gravel and Mike Huckabee have responded. The debate would be 90 minutes long and only feature a time keeper. "It would be an adult discussion," said Tyler, when referring to the renewed political debate. Both Gingrich and Tyler believe this form of debate would change the face of politics and campaigning in America.

The outline of the debate would be as follows: Tyler would like to see the 2 presidential candidates once they are selected by their party partake in 9, 90 minute debates. There would be one a week in the time span after the party conventions and before the November election. The press would no longer set the agenda, and this way candidates could now get to the issues with thought out, thorough positions.

Tyler isn't quite sure if this next presidential election has any hope, but he is optimistic that people will catch on and that things will change. "We are in a period of consultant driven campaigns," said Tyler when describing today's political process. Campaigns start so early because of this. Candidates focus all their attention on raising money and gaining support. "The most valuable asset a candidate has is their thinking and planning time for the future," remarked Tyler. Candidates become utterly exhausted after months and month of begging for money and lose this time. How can it then be expected that they have articulated thoughtful positions?

Tyler turned the floor over to questions from the class to end his presentation. Here are some of the major insights.
1) The media does have an obligation to the public to bring up issues that many people may not know about or care about. But the media is driven by profits, which are driven by ratings, so many of these issues have no relevance to thoughtful political discussion.

2)In terms of campaign finance reform, Tyler would like to see no limits, period. Candidates should be able to receive as much money as possible from a donor as long as it is immediately made public on the internet.

3)Blind issue polls would be a great way to bring attention to positions rather than candidates. This way people necessarily wouldn't be blinded by party affiliation or a person's name. If blind issue polls were taken each week and the media followed them then candidates would undoubtedly be more vocal about their stances on certain issues.

All in all, it was rather interesting to hear Tyler's take on debate and campaign reform ideas. He echoed many of his bosses ideas. Time will only tell if these ideas can be placed into action.

Conservatism, Debate Reform, and FedEx

Guest speaker Rick Tyler spoke with Dr. Dana Walker’s Dissident Media class at American University on Oct. 19, 2007.

Some background info…

Rick Tyler currently serves as the press spokesman for former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.

He is a conservative political strategist, and senior partner at Chesapeake Associates, a professional campaign consulting firm.

Tyler was the Executive Director for the Maine Republican Party for five years before moving to the nation’s capitol, where he is now the Director of Media Relations for Gingrich Communications, according to his website.

Let the live blogging begin.

“It’s not often that a member of Newt Gingrich’s staff gets willingly invited to talk to a college class,” Tyler said, greeting a class of almost 30 laptop-armed students.

He took no time getting started. Asking the class how we decide who to vote for, he received various answers from the class. “We go online,” someone said. “Television,” said another. Tyler explained in his day there were only four major networks, compared to today’s common choice of 500 available satellite channels.

Tyler said there is probably less than 10% of the entire American population paying attention to the presidential election. Keep in mind this blog is coming from a university where nearly every student has a political opinion.

Obviously this statistic doesn’t apply to anyone in the room, Tyler said.

He compared the percentage of his life that’s dedicated to politics compared to that of “normal people.” Ninety percent of his life, he claimed, was encompassed by all things political.

“You’re weird!” Tyler said to the students who claimed they watched Sunday morning talk shows, rather than sleep, watch football, or play golf like “normal people.” He was trying to reiterate that most of the nation doesn’t care most of the time about politicians or political issues.

On the topic of television, Tyler recalled the first-ever televised presidential debate – Nixon v. Kennedy. This debate took place where they now do the Meet the Press with Tim Russert, he said.

“What do you think is wrong with today’s current political debate?” Tyler asked the class.

“It’s too rigid and lifeless…They just give the answers they know the voters want to hear,” replied a student.

“You think people can see through that?” Tyler asked, “I do too.”

Tyler criticized the current debate structure, describing it as unproductive and “ridiculous.”

“What’s your answer on Iraq? Thirty seconds.” The buzzer rings faster than you can say “Uh… well…where do I begin?”

What’s his solution to the rehearsed, rapid-fire, sound byte-laden debates today?

He mentioned that his boss, Newt Gingrich, proposed that two candidates get on stage and talk it out in an anything-goes style forum. If they’re from opposing political parties—great. He also briefly mentioned Newt’s NNN plan, which is discussed further down in this post.

“I’d love to see bipartisan debates. If you put a bunch of republican/democratic candidates in a room full of republican/democratic voters they sound like CrAzY right-/left-wing fanatics!!” he said.

On the subject of registered independent voters, Tyler claimed they “have no voice.” He said they have to wait for the “crazy people” to make up their minds between candidates, before an independent voter can have his or her own choice.

As a registered independent, I don’t react well to this statement. Tyler spoke in front of a class that is structured to force students to have their own voice. The term “dissident,” as in Dissident Media, in itself reflects a minority that do not associate with the mainstream press.

To say someone doesn’t have a voice because they don’t associate with one of the two major parties? I don’t know about that. I understood what he meant, that we need to restructure the debate system to give undecided voters a better opportunity to decide between candidates, but he could’ve worded that more eloquently.

Tyler also spoke of newsworthiness. “Does anyone remember what the media was covering on September 11, 2001?” After a few hints, no one in the audience could recall that this was the summer Chandra Levy went missing. That was to be expected (it was over six years ago).

Newsworthiness is highly influenced by a struggle for ratings, Tyler said, “Why be afraid of freedom? I’d like to see no limits.”

If you’re a candidate, you have the weakest position to define your campaign, Tyler stated.

Tyler then advocated for transparency in government. Right now, campaigns are financed by "bundlers," organizations with names like “Voters for a Better America.” Does anyone actually know where this money is coming from with a name like that?

“I love the five dollar voter.” Big donators are just buying influence, which they get through access.

Tyler asked a number of questions about our lives in a technological age, including ones on floppy disks, records, and rotary phones. Doing so provided a comparison between today's world and the one of only a couple decades ago. Not that this topic needed addressing to a class where nearly every student had a laptop, complete with wireless Internet access, in front of him or her.

This was taken almost directly from Newt Gingrich’s speech at the National Press Club, which is available at the AU library for any AU students reading this. Tyler exemplified the ridiculousness of the fact that FedEx can track about 20 million packages a day, to six-sigma accuracy. Whereas the Federal government can’t track 11 million illegal aliens? Newt Gingrich’s suggested solution: send each illegal alien a package through FedEx or UPS. If that doesn’t get you laughing, check your pulse.

Gingrich calls his debate reform proposal the “Nine Nineties at Nine” plan. Namely, nine candidates speak for ninety minutes every Sunday for nine weeks before the election.

According to Tyler, this plan would allow the candidates to talk about a range of issues for longer periods of time. The debate topics would be chosen by the candidates themselves. This brings us to the question of how do the candidates choose which topics they should discuss?

“Dan Rather essentially got fired by a blogger! Think about that,” Tyler said.

Tyler maintained that the chance a citizen has today of bringing an issue to the attention of the Speaker of the House is much greater, mostly through online blogging, than it was when Gingrich was Speaker. Now, by means of the Internet, voters have more control over which issues get the most attention.

Then the floor opened to questions, of which I include only one.

“What has caused this degenerative debate structure?” one student asked.

Tyler’s answers were money, the financing of campaigns, and the competitive nature of the news media, which has focused people on trivia.

“I think the media has done a terrible job at articulating what people actually get,” Tyler claimed after he explained that every voter only wants to know what he or she will get by electing a candidate.

Talking with Tyler

Rick Tyler, Newt Gingrich’s Press Secretary and Spokesperson, came to speak for Dr. Dana Walker’s Dissident Media class today. Employed under Newt Gingrich for seven years, Tyler has also professionally trained staff and volunteers for hundreds of candidates. He has spoken about forums and co-hosts an internet radio program on The Right Talk. Mr. Tyler lives in Virginia with his wife and daughter.
After being introduced, he speaks about four major news channels that many used to get their news from while he was growing up. “Walter Cronkite used to end his news broadcasts with, ‘and that’s the way it is’, and we believed it,” states Tyler. “That’s not true today.” He goes on to explain that many people today have technology at their fingertips which allow people to access information via radio, internet, and from a plethora of news sources on television.
He draws several circles on the board to represent the general populace. Asking the class a series of questions such as whether or not they listen to talk radio such as NPR etc., whether or not the students watched Sunday morning political talk shows, and so on. The issue with this lies in the fact that few people in the United States actually do. “You guys are freaks,” he laughs when some students raise their hands about watching Sunday morning shows, “You are in the minority. Most people don’t.”
Healthcare, pensions, and social security are brought up in the speech. He asks the group about the students’ first jobs. Joking with the class that they might not be too concerned with social security because they are all in the “immortal stage” of life at the moment, he brings up the idea that social security is going to be non-existent in a few years. He speaks about Newt Gingrich’s idea of having two or four individuals debating one another about the real issues. Tyler speaks about the fact that putting all of the Democrats in one room to debate one another makes them appear like crazed liberals while doing the same with all Republican candidates make them appear as crazed right wing candidates. This, according to the speaker, simply drives those who are uninterested in keeping up with the news on the presidential campaign race at bay.
He also brought up the idea that independents have no voice. Independent voters are seen as individuals who are simply sitting with no voice until after the “crazed Democrats” and “crazed Republicans” to make up their minds. He believes that real debates with the candidates in small groups will be more appropriate.
Tyler also criticizes the media. Bringing up the main piece covered by the media about Chandra Levy every day leading up to 9/11, he discusses the fact that many said that the attack that day in September was a surprise. He states that the idea is ridiculous because we did have stories which could have warned us about the issues, however the media doesn’t cover them. Although he feels that the story should have been covered, he also believes that it should not have been covered all summer long. Media is run by profits, according to Tyler. The reason that the real issues are not focused upon is because media outlets want more viewers, and therefore will show stories about Brittney Spears and Paris Hilton instead.
Candidate funding is also an important issue. The idea of raising funds that are funded by groups like Citizens for a Better Life is ridiculous because you cannot really tell where money is coming from. He believes candidates should simply state where the money is coming from directly because it is easier to discover what the candidate stands for. Are they supported by the labor unions, big businesses, etc?
American impatience is also a key part of his discussion. The fact that people get impatient over things such as waiting for receipts, ATMs to deposit money, etc is brought up. Tracking and information such as package whereabouts is considered. He asks students to consider why the government is not always run in such a manner. We have illegal immigrants, yet they cannot be traced. The tragedy with Hurricane Katrina was considered, and Tyler speaks about the fact that people should have been able to help more quickly. He also brings up the fact that Americans often tune things out if they are not directly affected by the issue. Politics is often viewed as foreign to many Americans due to the fact that they don’t feel directly involved.
Rick Tyler is incredibly open to questions, and was more than happy to engage in conversation. His speech is quite interesting and has brought up several valid points. The quality of debate and the importance of activism in politics are some crucial issues that the speaker has brought to light. He ends his speech on the reiterated fact that in the 1950s everyone had access to the same news and information. Today, he states, people are able to make up their own “news worlds” in which they take information from their own variety of sources (The Washington Post, RNC, etc.) to create what they find important.

LIVE BLOG: Rick Tyler in class

Tony Romm
October 19, 2007
LIVE BLOG: Rick Tyler in class

I'm sorry, Gingrich lovers of the world (or, er, this blog), but if Rick Tyler, his press secretary, is anything like his boss, that entire camp is but a walking contradiction.

I transcribed quite a bit of the discussion and I'd like to post all of it, but I'd clog up the blog. Instead, I figured I'd just analyze some of the more pertinent and contradictory things Tyler said.

And, a final warning: I wrote what I could as fast as I could. I do not promise front page quality journalism.

For starters, consider his analysis of the major problems affecting America:

“There are basically several challenges American faces today that are quite serious, they are, in fact, life threatening, they are in fact, western civilization threatening. First, there are enemies around the world who hate us… You have weapons of mass destruction. You also have weapons of mass disruption… what happens if manufacturers overseas inject a virus into the system and everything collapses? A lot of them are on diversified networks… but you can have mass disruption that hurts out economy. We have trouble on the world… why in the world would you spend millions of dollars when you can drive a pickup truck across a border?”

Thanks, Rick. In a speech that's supposed to be about renewing political debate, you opened with the traditional ode to all things threatening. You invoked 9/11 (if not in name then in spirit) as if to say 'its a matter of life or death that you listen to me.' How... typical.

Then you noted:

“Another threat is competing with China and India, which is a threat all of you have to face (population comparisons). They all want to pursue happiness, like we do. We always imported talent, but today that’s changing. If it’s so hard to come to the US and create jobs in the US, why don’t they just do it at home? Now I have a feeling that the US will stay competitive for the next 50 years if the us reforms taxation…, immigration, health.”

“If we don’t have choices of higher quality and lower costs, the system is broken. Now, how do we get to those challenges? I don’t hear insightful commentary on this… In both the democratic and the republican base, you have 9 candidates like seals, waiting for someone to throw them a fish for 9 seconds. So when Newt Gingrich proposed… to have no more than two candidates get on stage – and I don’t care if they’re from same parties on different parties.

Oh, that oozes conservatism. I didn't think I attended class today to be indoctrinated. I thought renewing political debate was an issue that far transcends partisan politics. Guess I was wrong. In pairing conservative issues with progressive reforms, Tyler is taking advantage of students who aren't questioning his rhetoric.

There is no greater example of this than Tyler's quick yet caustic statement about independent voters. Asking students to raise their hands, he remarked:

“If you sit it out in the primaries, you don’t have a choice... don’t get a chance to vote."

Really, Mr. Tyler? I’m registered independent, and I raised my hand. Does this mean that I’m uninformed or unwilling to participate? Quite the contrary, I'd imagine. How can one profess to revolutionize the election system yet belittle third parties and alternative movements? How can one tell a group of students that they ought to defect to the republican or democratic parties in order to have a say? Essentially, Mr. Tyler, you’re arguing that we should reject candidates who aren't mainstream, accept the system how it is and vote accordingly. Doesn't that contradict everything you JUST told us about reinvigorating debate?

And just when I thought my rage subsided, Tyler asked the class to voice the issues they believe most affected Americans. Money, politics, Iraq... whatever... but one of the issues a classmate voiced was gay rights, an issue I personally feel is immensely important.

But Tyler quickly dismissed that notion: “How many people do you think rank gay rights on the top of the list? Only 2-3%. But the media spends so much time talking about it anyway,” he said.

He quickly clarified his off-key statement when a friend of mine called him out on it. He emphasized the importance of agenda-setting, but didn't really touch the issues of gay rights.

How convenient, right? Tyler keeps silent on issues he lacks a strategy to address; he dances around the issue. In other words, Tyler does the same thing the politicians he criticizes does. Another hypocrisy.

Even better, Tyler's remarks on campaign finance reform:

“Important people in today’s campaigns are bundlers… Bundlers are people who can raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. The candidate is the single most valuable resource in a campaign, and they take that candidates time to seek money… But the most valuable thing a candidate has is thinking and planning time. If you [take time away from] a candidate, how are they supposed to think and plan?”

Excellent, excellent analysis. I agree. Let's keep listening:

“I would like to see… why be afraid of freedom, I’d like to see no limits (fundraising limits)... PACS and interest groups can get into a campaign and influence it and define you and your campaign... Unions, corporations and individuals can raise as much as they want but the moment that check comes it, it goes up on the internet so people can see”

What. You can't emphasize open dialog and the need for issue-specific debate when you restrict politics to the richest and most effective fundraisers. I was appalled, to say the least.

After brooding over that idea, I decided to ask my own question. As I posted in a previous blog and comment, campaign contributions are a big concern in 2008. With mainstream networks turning fundraising successes into big headlines (re: my Obama criticism), it seems only the richest candidates survive. It seems the politicians are more accountable to big donors than tiny voters.

And you know what Tyler said?

"Campaign finance reform didn’t solve those problems, I don’t think any of that has changed. But I think the American people are very smart, they don’t always pay attention, but if you give them the right information, they’ll make the right decision… but if they saw one person donating a billion dollars, the people would see that and not vote for them. Its got to be transparent, people need to know where the money is coming from and what its purpose is. When we invented campaign finance reform after Watergate, there was no way to be reporting information, now we can with the internet."

Again, nothing. No specific answer to my question, no concern for the little voter who only meagerly pays attention to politics. Apparently, transparency legitimizes inequality. Cause that’s not oligarchical.

And that's when I stopped listening and started typing. Sure, Tyler and Gingrich are dead on in terms of renewing and reinvigorating political debates. But both are the same old, same old, as I predicted. Both reek of the same dirty, unaccountable politics this blog has sought to criticize. I'd hate to say I told you so, but I did. The truth (when someone's willing to tell it) hurts.

A sad day, indeed.