Brown-Warren Debate 2: No Thinking Allowed!

Who moderates the next debate? Because this is the second debate in a row the moderator started with the Native-American question and if Moderator 3 does the same an audience member needs to jump up and beat the moderator silly.

David Gregory spent the first nineteen minutes on matters Senator Brown wanted to discuss: the Native American matter and Elizabeth Warren’s clients. As Ricky Ricardo might say, ‘she had a lot of ‘splainin’ to do.’ The Native American saga is very familiar now and Senator Brown reframed it a bit by saying she has changed from white to Native American and back again. It’s interesting how both candidates bring up their families when in trouble, Warren explaining that her parents told her of her Native American heritage, then taking the approach that character is how you live your life and talking about how she is the daughter of a janitor, rose to Harvard law and worked for the president, etc.

After nineteen minutes Gregory announced he would be moving on to national issues. A moment of great gravity, no doubt. He tried to encourage Senator Brown to hug it out with Mitt Romney. Brown declined to engage in a public display of affection with Romney but was happy to detail his bromance with President Barack Obama. The Romney angle having failed Gregory tried to induce the Republican senator to admit he’d be voting for Senator Mitch McConnell for senate leader. Again no commitment. In fact throughout the debate Senator Brown claimed on open mind on all sorts of questions. Apparently this is true because in over two years in Washington his mind has been so open as to retain no information about whether Senator McConnell would be a good leader.

Having gotten knocked around pretty well for the first twenty minutes Warren took the lifeline on the economy to make her case for the middle class. Senator Brown again acted like the Democrat by bringing union jobs into the debate. They repeated their lines from Debate I about taxes. Warren does well on the economy and when in trouble Brown went to his family as well, recounting how his mother spent some time on welfare, so how could he do anything that would harm people in need? He may go down as Senator Scott “Lockstep” Brown, so often did Warren repeat that he votes in “lockstep” with right-wing Senate Republicans.

The Democrats may ask for their own moderator next time because not only did Gregory spend nineteen minutes on Warren’s character, he never asked about women’s issues. She snuck mention of the Blunt Amendment in anyway.

Senator Brown was stuck when asked for his model Supreme Court justice. Then he began whirring away, naming first Justice Scalia, then Justice Kennedy, then Justice Roberts. Then he remembered he is supposed to be bipartisan and independent and improbably came up with Justice Sonia Sotomayor, recovering nicely with a Democrat, woman and Latina. That may have been the one telling moment of the debate. Gregory stopped him before he could work his way back to Chief Justice John Marshall.

Commenters and anchors went to work immediately afterword to see if there had been a game-changer. No, and there almost never is. The debates are a focusing point that allows candidates to not answer direct questions in favor of delivering focus group tested talking points.

But the audience now is likely to have seen enough to be able to make a decision. Active government vs. small government, a balanced approach of taxes and cuts to reduce the deficit vs. no taxes any time and keep an open mind.

It’s customary to say democracy requires many more debates. I’m not so sure. There is a lot of tedium in these set pieces and we pretty much have the basic information by this point.

This is TV – no thinking allowed!

About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.
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