Sunday, October 08, 2006

Discuss the MTP Debate Here

I'd call it a draw.

Sunday, Sen. Jim Talent, R-Missouri, and Claire McCaskill, his Democratic opponent in the U.S. Senate race, sat down with NBC's Tim Russert for a debate on "Meet the Press."

Russert began with questions involving the Mark Foley scandal. Talent hedged on whether House Speaker Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, should resign. "We need to find out who knew what. Let the chips fall where they may." McCaskill was unequivocal about Hastert resigning.

Then the conversation shifted to Iraq and the war on terror. Talent called McCaskill's positions on the issues "positions of weakness." Talent also said, "It's going to take (4-5 years) to complete our part of the mission: To train up an Iraqi army that's capable of doing for itself what it's now doing in partnership with us."

Russert pushed McCaskill to elaborate on comments she made about redeploying U.S. forces in the region over the next two years. Here's how she left it:
We need to give them notice. We need to tell the Iraqi government that we’re not going to build democracy at the barrel of a gun. It’s time for them to stand up and begin taking responsibility for their country.

It appeared Russert didn't have all his facts straight when he asked Sen. Talent about voting for the war in 2002. As we've noted here bfore, Talent was a candidate during the October 2002 votes on authorizing the president to use military force against Iraq. Talent didn't correct him and Russert didn't push him hard about it. McCaskill left herself room by saying, "I've never seen what (senators) saw."

Russert shifted the debate to stem cell research. The discussion wound up in an exchange over McCaskill and partial-birth abortion. I don't think the average voter will get a handle on where Talent is on the issue. Talent agreed with Russert's assertion that "people believe that research on the embryonic stem cell may in fact bring about a cure." But he still doesn't support the amendment.

Russert called McCaskill to task on her comments about President Bush and Katrina. ("George Bush let people die on rooftops in New Orleans because they were poor and because they were black.") She really hemmed and hawed around the comments before finally admittd, "I probably should have said it another way."

Finally, Russert sought to frame the race as a referendum on George W. Bush. He brought up the president's visits to Missouri (even a monage of clips of the president mentioning Talent by name). It appeard neither candidate wanted to bite on the issue. Talent mentioned aras in which he disagreed with the president (immigration, amnesty, security fence). McCaskill closed by affirming her independence and even snuck in references to Sen. McCain, Graham and Colin Powell.

To date, the least contentious of the MTP Senate debates. I don't think this changed anyone's mind nor was there enough here for an undecided to make up his or her mind.

Talent's terror/Iraq positions are in line with most Republicans. I'm really surprised I don't hear more Republicans offering some historical context for why it's important not to abandon Iraq at this point. The Looming Tower is a must-read on this subject. Islamic extremists have been embolden the last 25 years by the retreats of their enemies: Soviets pulling out of Afghanistan, U.S forces fleeing Somalia, U.S. troops getting out of Lebanon. They believe they can be victorious based on these triumphs. Further retreat out of the region will only give them more reason to believe they can accomplish their goals.

But I don't hear many Republicans articulating this. To casual voters, Iraq looks like a mess and politicians like Sen. Talent as saying things like, "I think the mission is going well. I think we’ve made an awful lot of progress." Then they get into semantics over what the mission is. Talent did a good job of defending that remark by outlining how he defines the mission:

The mission was to remove Saddam, and the threat that he represented, replace him with a democracy in Iraq that would be an ally in the war on terror, that would be able to defend itself alone, as we—it now has to defend itself in partnership with us, and whose very existence would be a rebuke to the terrorist vision of—for the Arab-Islamic world. Well, Saddam is gone, and the threat he represented is gone. The government in Iraq is not threatening Kuwait, it’s not trying to restart a nuclear weapon program, it’s not using oil revenues to sponsor terrorism throughout the Mideast, it’s not competing with Iran to dominate the region. We do have a government of national unity that represents all sections. We have trained up a highly capable army.

I haven't heard from McCaskill or any other Democrats anything specific about what would be different if they were in charge. "Listen to our military." "Give the Iraqi government notice." "Redeploy our troops." There's no contesting the mission itself - just how we get there. That appears to be how voters are being asked to frame the debate: Stick with current leadership or let someone else try.

As for stem cells, if you really pay attention to the discussions, it seems to come down to how you view cloning. "Human" cloning - that is creating an entire person from scratch - is banned under Amendment 2. Statutorially, the definition of cloning requires the implantation or the attempt to implant the embryo in a person. The problem is scientifically the definition of cloning is broader and includes the procedure that helped produce Dolly the sheep. As I understand it, that procedure would still be ok under A2. So supporters and opponents can throw around the term "cloning" all they want -- often they are not talking about the same thing.

In the context of the U.S. Senate race, Talent has been wading in murky waters for months. Voters are going to have to figure out for themselves how much, if at all, the issue matters when picking their senator.

So that brings us to Wednesday debate at Clayton High School in St. Louis. KSDK, KSMU and the Clayton Chamber of Commerce are putting this together. You can watch the debate at Lots of issues out there for discussion both then and during the KY3 debate on October 16.

You can watch the debate again on MSNBC Sunday night at 9:00 p.m. Central. Or watch it here now.

The transcript is also available.


Matt said...

Good catch Brad on Russert's mistake of thinking Talent voted for the war in Iraq- Jean Carnahan was still in the Senate at the time (and she voted for the war). I figured Russert did his homework better. What surprised me is that Talent didn't correct him on it.

Steven Reed said...

Jim Talent is a nice guy---but he is TOAST!

He was on the Defensive and looked desperate from the time the Debate started until the end when Claire McCaskill shook his hand!

Talent can hope no one in Missouri watched the Debate on Meet the Press!

Tannahuser said...

Just a thought Brad, see if you can get one of the biology professors at MSU or Drury to accept Amendment 2's definition of cloning as an answer to a test question.

bobicus tomatocus said...

I dont agree with you that people won't understand Talent's belief system regarding the stem cell issue.

I do agree with you on the problem framing the debate in Iraq.

That appears to be how voters are being asked to frame the debate: Stick with current leadership or let someone else try.

There is another alternative being pushed by Former secetary of state, James Baker and is being elluded to by John Warner (the media are manipulating his "drifting side ways" statement to mean cut and run).

That alternative is to keep the goal and complete the mission but to change tactics. That isnt to say we aren't, because we are on some tactical levels.

The question should be, what can be done at a strategic level to address the problem.

It is for the very reasons you mention in the book Looming Tower that we need to complete the mission.

Russert mentioned for the first time I have heard a journalist ask what the consequences of pulling out of Iraq would be.

You are wrong that Republicans have not been framing the debate in those terms. Do you remember President Bush repeating that if we pull out of Iraq they will follow us over here? What about that advertisment you called "inaccurate" earlier.

In the end, I would say the debate was interesting because it went very much like the Santorum debate in my mind. It seemed like a two on one. The topics Russert brought up were very close to reflecting exact talking points of Democrats and the Mc Caskill campaign (Foley, voted with Bush x ammount of times, stem cells).

I will grant you that they did talk about the war on terrorism a little bit, but I would have liked to hear about other issues relevant to Missourians like the Second Ammendment or possible tax increases in the future.

While not as flashy and they do not play into Democratic talking points, many of us vote on those issues.

The Lorax said...

If body language is a clue, I think Talent looked spent and tired by the end of the debate. McCaskill looked alive with her outstretched hand ready for the closing shot (well-played).

McCaskill was on the offensive most of the time, sans the Katrina comment... which she clearly could have handled better. Talent, being the incumbent couldn't help but to defend the line.

Talent appeared to not have much of a position on anything but the war... and McCaskill seemed to work hard to scoop up the moderate fence-sitters that may be looking for the change you mention.

The next few debates should be interesting.

bobicus tomatocus said...

Well, Mr. Synder, Tim Russert was rather pointed in that most of the questions were of an attack type nature aimed toward Talent.

Outside of the Katrina question, how else did Mr. Russert challenge Claire? He did not, with maybe one exception as noted above.

If you were in his shoes and were asked one of those questions after another how else would you handle it?

I might also add that the majority of the debate was over Iraq and the war. The rest was just sorta wierd questions crammed together.

Citizenkan said...

Talent looked like a deer in the headlights when Claire asked him how he could vote with Bush 94% of the time and not think he was a great President.

And Bobi,
Drifting sideways? Don't you just love semantics!

The Libertarian Guy said...

I refused to watch this "debate", as there were only two canidates there.

Well, I did watch some of it... approximately 45 seconds' worth. That's all the crap I can take on a Sunday morning.

Steven Reed said...

Back in 2003 I founded a group Citizens supporting McCaskill for Governor which was a Draft McCaskill for Governor. We had members around the state that spoke out and one of our main themes was that Claire McCaskill inspires people. That is still true today.

As a former prosecutor McCaskill wants legislation that will make the hiring of illegal immigrants a major crime. She understands we need to get and keep more jobs here in America. I also hope she will support a project to develop a technology park in southwest Missouri

Jim Talent is a nice guy, but he has voted on bills supported by the President 94% of the time. President Bush has a job approval rating in the 30s nationwide and in Missouri.

We need someone who is more in touch with the people and yes will inspire the people of Missouri and the nation to make it a better place for all the people. New ideas are needed desperately in the nation for the economy, the environment, and to turn back the red ink we are running up faster than any time in the history of the country. People who want to leave more can go to:
CD of the Year Modern Times

bobicus tomatocus said...

Jim Talent is a nice guy, but he has voted on bills supported by the President 94% of the time. President Bush has a job approval rating in the 30s nationwide and in Missouri.

Your argument does not follow. Just because the president doesnt have a high approval rating does not mean that he is doing wrong.

Tell me specifically what in that 94% is wrong. Odds are you cannot.

In fact many of those votes were bipartisan. It is the those vital votes which some of us are glad which he sides with the President (not appeasing our enemies, giving terrorist a bill of rights, giving illegals the same benefits as legal citizens).

I take that back, Claire agrees with the president more than Talent on illegal Aliens. I guess that is that "independent streak" you were talking about, eh?

PbBut said...

BT, you state: "Your argument does not follow." What argument?
As for McCaskill's position on immigration, what about the following do you find objectionable?
"The President, while giving lip service to the immigration issue, has looked the other way while our border has become Swiss cheese and employers hiring illegal immigrants have gotten a free pass. We need a Senator who will hold the Bush Administration accountable for its failure to prioritize border security and for giving amnesty to employers who violate the current law with no fear of the consequences."