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.