Monday, October 15, 2012

Schmookler/Goodlatte "debate"

The incumbent, Bob Goodlatte, and his challenger, Andy Schmookler, met in their second debate this morning at Turner Ashby High School in Bridgewater, VA. Rain showers were passing through as folks arrived at the school. The parking lot and sidewalks were lined with yard signs for each man - both use a blue/white theme - in about equal numbers. Inside the auditorium some rows were set aside for area high school students invited to attend - Eastern Mennonite HS, Spotswood HS, and Broadway HS - in addition to Turner Asby HS students who helped organize the event. I'd say the auditorium was about 85% filled and, based on the applause at the end, roughly equally divided between Schmookler and Goodlatte supporters.

After sound checks and other preliminaries, the "debate" started on time. Yes, I guess it was a debate, but due to constraints of the rules and all of the questions being presented by student panelists from the various schools it was hardly a debate that shed much new light on issues. Each candidate gave opening and closing statements of three minutes in length. Questions were directed to candidates in an alternating fashion with a one minute answer, a two minute rebuttal, and a one minute rebuttal to the rebuttal. Not much time to delve into the questions with any depth! There were no followups nor could the candidates question each other. I applaud the students' presence and participation, but this format made it more a joint campaign appearance than a debate.

Goodlatte's opening statement sounded his theme for the day - promote jobs and the economy by cutting taxes and regulations and reducing the debt. In nearly each answer to every question Goodlatte returned to these themes even if it meant few specifics or dodging the essence of the question.

Schmookler's opening statement returned to his often repeated belief that dishonesty in politics and a government captured by the monied interests has damaged our government of, by, and for the people. He revisited these ideas as he talked about government's role in advancing social mobility, promoting equality, and supporting a strong middle class.

The student generated questions asked about the cost of higher education, Social Security, fracking and uranium mining in the commonwealth, defense spending, transportation, health care, and the Dream Act. Several of highlights from where my perch:
  • Bob Goodlatte doesn't seem too supportive on much of a federal role to with the cost of higher education punting it mostly back on the institutions. Schmookler believes educational opportunity helps achieve the American Dream and upward social mobility.
  • On Social Security Schmookler believes tweaking and adjusting the system will keep it viable for decades to come. Goodlatte did say he would not support privatization but most of his response was about the debt.
  • Neither man addressed uranium mining but there was a clear difference on fracking with Goodlatte basically in the industry corner and Schmookler calling for an end to the Halliburton Exemption and (while responding to the next question on defense) pointing to Goodlatte as a climate change denier.
  • Schmookler questioned why the U.S. spends as much as the rest of the world combined on defense. Goodlatte didn't seem overly interested in significant defense cuts but he used the opportunity to get a zinger in on entitlements.
  • On transportation Goodlatte talked of "limited resources" and launched an attack on ObamaCare. Schmooker accused Goodlatte of voting against important transportation bills and said that, if elected, he'd understand the important difference between spending and investing - and he's support infrastructure investment as a way to create jobs now and a stronger country in the future.
  • Schmookler accused Goodlatte and the GOP of dropping the ball and/or opposing heath care reform for the last quarter century. For his part the congressman only said that ObamaCare is a budget buster and he cited some examples of health legislation he'd supported.
One takeaway for me is that Andy Schmooker is a big thinker who does indeed transcend partisan politics. He sees and understands interconnections and causes and effects. Unfortunately, a "debate" such as this and political discourse in general is not conducive to discussing big ideas.

Bob Goodlatte spent considerable time, without saying it directly, of preempting criticism that he is a hyper-partisan member of Congress. On a number of occasions he bent over backwards (almost to the point of kissing his own butt) to talk about his bipartisan "creds." It sounded good but that was a hyper-imagination at work - there is good reason this blog has referred to him as Bobblehead Bob for a long time. On issue after issue he nods his agreement with his GOP puppet masters.

I was seated behind the area reserved for Goodlatte's family and close friends and the bobblehead thing must be dominant in the Republican gene pool - I smiled more than once as 4 or 5 of them would nod, in perfect synchronization, to Bob's talking points. Even more impressive was their ability to shake their heads in perfect choreography when Schmookler said something they didn't like. It put a bold accent on Schmookler's using the famous Will Rogers quote to emphasize his desire to work across party lines to find common ground, "I belong to no organized political party; I am a Democrat."

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