MA-05 Debate On NECN – An Analysis

 

The NECN debate held last Friday (Ocober 5), was televised statewide & moderated by Jim Braude. It was one of the last opportunities for voters in the MA-05 district to see the five candidates in action before the October 16 general election. It will be replayed again tonight (Monday).

In my opinion, Ogonowski squandered many opportunities to shine before the audience. He failed to further delineate his positions, he failed to undermine the positions held by Tsongas, & he failed to utilize the other three candidates to either buttress his own positions or undermine those of Tsongas. Conversely, Tsongas reiterated her positions in a way that underlined her vision of what she would do in Congress, she skillfully raised doubts about Ogonowski's fitness for the job, & she was adept in using some of the other candidates as foils to either undermine Ogonowski or to bolster her own standing.

On Iraq

When Tsongas characterized as “shocking” the decision of several leading Democrats running for President to allow some troops to remain in Iraq well into 2016, Ogonowski could have asked her what was so shocking about showing realism about the situation in Iraq – let alone sounding like a moderate on the issue? He said nothing. Tsongas repeated the mantra of Iraq's “civil war” without the O-Man asking her how her characterization jibes with the lack of conflict seen in the Kurdish north, the decision of Sunni tribal leaders to assist the Americans in killing Al Qaeda militants, or the decision of the Shi'ites to reign in most of their death squads while they consolidate their political power. At one point, Tsongas seemed to contradict herself when, on the one hand, she wanted to quickly remove US troops from Iraq but, on the other hand, she acknowledged that it would take time for an effective & orderly drawdown (like, say, till 2016?) When she talked about “neighboring states” being part of a “diplomatic solution”, did that imply working out a quid pro quo with the Iranians to ensure “stability”? If so, at what price? Sadly, Ogonowski never challenged Tsongas on her talking points. He only challenged her regarding leaving a number of troops behind instead of bringing all the troops home. Of course, THAT comment made Ogonowski seem as if he was pandering to the anti-war crowd while Tsongas came across as more realistic. Hayes' answer came across as equally realistic when he said America must keep a presence in Iraq to ensure its longterm stability. Murphy & Thompson were content to give civic lessons disguised as answers.

On A War Tax

When Braude asked Murphy why he supported a war tax instead of mandatory conscription, Murphy said neither are compatible but that if one supports a war like Iraq, one should pay for it. Hayes preferred to attach to things like Pell Grants a stipulation that a quid pro quo would be in order like military service (without mandating it). Tsongas opposed the idea of a draft but used the remainder of her time to rebut Ogonowski's earlier contention of staying in Iraq until victory is achieved without a definitive timeline in place for a drawdown of the troops. She also favorably cited a former aide to Ronald Reagan to buttress another point & pitched the idea of the Peace Corps as an alternative way of doing public service. [Note: It's to Braude's credit that he didn't allow Tsongas to avoid answering his intial question; she finally had to say that she did NOT support a war tax]. Ogonowski's answer was a reductionist anti-tax rant as was Thompson's answer. Hayes gave no answer because Braude forgot to ask him.

Should The US Invade Pakistan In Order To Capture Bin Laden?

Ogonowski used his time to shell out his taking points on terrorism until Braude cut him off (probably due to exasperation). Tsongas threatened to be equally long-winded, caught herself, & urged a moderate approach to Pakistan. Hayes gave the clear & consise answer that the US shouldn't invade one of its own allies in order to capture Bin Laden.  Murphy & Thompson agreed with the Hayes position.

How Should 12 Million Illegal Immigrants Be Deported?

Ogonowski issued his illegal immigration talking points until Braude cut in to repeat his question. Again, the O-Man skirted the thrust of Braude's question in order to segue to his talking points. Again, Braude tried to get Ogonowski to humanize his stance & (yet again) the O-Man ignored said opportunity in order to bludgeon home his point. All that did was provide a great set-up for Tsongas who prefaced her remarks by saying she would provide solutions, not slogans. She got to blame Bush for contributing to the problem of illegal immigration (even as she later on professed support for Bush's now defunct immigration bill). She also slammed the “shadow economy” & the businesses that exploit illegal immigrants (which was a verbal kiss to the unions). She avoided answering Braude's follow-up question on post-immigration reform lawbreakers but used her time to bash Bush (I'm tough!) while shedding crocodile tears for (sob!) the children affected by deported aliens (I'm tender!) Hayes tried to exude “Niki Lite” but his anti-illegal immigrant stand, like Dr. Stangelove's gloved hand, snapped into attention when he decried “safe havens” for illegals. Murphy bemoaned “root causes” of illegal immigration & advocated “re-arranging trade agreements” so that Americans could subsidize the quality of life of people from all over the world. Thompson's reply took the form of a smug lecture.

Should English Be America's Official Language?

All five candidates supported English as a necessary skill for ALL citizens to have if said citizens want to advance in American society. Neither Tsongas nor Murphy were comfortable with the idea of mandating English as an official language & Murphy felt Americans should learn languages other than English.

Should Children Born To Illegal Immigrants Receive Tuition?

Only Tsongas supported this issue & provided quick bullet points to justify her stance. The other four candidates opposed the idea. Given his stance on illegal immigration, the O-Man never directly challenged Tsongas' on her talking points or used the moment to clarify his own stands on the issue.

On Medicare

Hayes pushed for making private insurance available to anyone who could afford it & to subsidize those who can't. He danced around Braude's question as to whether a mean's test should be instituted for Medicare (with wealthy people paying more). Murphy supported expanding Medicare to more people in order to spread the risk (as a prelude to socialized medicine) while Thompson with a gleam in his eyes admitted he'd abolish Medicare if he had the chance. Ogonowski expressed his opposition to any tax increases to shore up Medicare while Tsongas side-stepped Braude's question by unleashing a laundry list of what she thought needed to be done to straighten out the country's healthcare system.

On SCHIP

Ogonowski's clash with Braude was painful to watch. He tried to avoid a direct answer to Braude's question by spewing out his talking points on illegal immigration. When Braude challenged Ogonowski's interpretation of SCHIP by reading a passage of the law which seemed to contradict the O-Man, Ogonowski continued to plow through his talking points on partisan gridlock instead of explaining HOW he thought illegals could circumvent the restrictions in SCHIP designed to prevent said illegals from profiting from the law should it have passed. Finally Ogonowski's refusal to comment on President Bush's veto of SCHIP undermined his image as a “can-do” problem-solver. His refusal to answer not only made him look weak but allowed Tsongas the opportunity to appear decisive. She seized that opportunity & used her time to criticize Ogonowski's interpretation of SCHIP pertaining to illegals in a way that made the O-Man appear as if he either hadn't read the bill or (if he had) he was deliberately misleading the public about it. She touted SCHIP's bipartisan support & tweaked Ogonowski's “Lone Ranger” approach as borderline delusional. Hayes was interesting in this regard. He opposed the veto but feared people making over 80K would leave private insurance in order to opt for SCHIP (if they managed in fact to do so). He also gave a subtle bitch slap to both Ogonowski & Tsongas as the type of partisans who misrepresent each other's position (& thus why voters should send HIM to Congress). Murphy supported overriding Bush's veto & used his time to tout his version of socialized medicine. Thompson argued he would sustain Bush's veto & then went into another lecture mode about the Constitution.

On Social Security

Braude asked the candidates if they would stabilize Social Security by either raising the payroll tax, increase the age of retirement, or do both. Ogonowski refused to raise either the tax or retirement age while Tsongas said that she would examine raising the cap as part of examing the problem as a whole (though she refused to raise the retirement age). Hayes echoed Tsongas. Murphy chided Tsongas' “let's look at the problem” approach & said he'd definitely raise the cap. Predictably, Thompson advocated an abolition of Social Security & yes, he gave Braude yet another lecture on constitutionalism.

On Partisan Bickering

Braude asked Tsongas to name one Republican initiative she'd support as a way to demonstrate that she'd solve problems & not continue the partisan bickering which prevents things from getting done in Congress. She was clever enough to cite Hayes' complaint about partisan bickering (instead of referencing Ogonowski's complaints) & she cited SCHIP again as an example of bipartisan support for a worthwhile bill (which was a clever jab at the O-Man). Tsongas got so wraped up in the sound of her own voice that Braude had to repeat his question to her again. She quickly responded that she would have supported Bush's now-defunct immigration bill. When Ogonowski was asked to respond to the same kind of question (which Democrat initiative would he support), the O-Man went into robo-candidate mode & regurgitated his “I'm-not-a-partisan-politician” rap. As with Tsongas, Braude had to repeat his question & asked Ogonowski to respond with a specific bill. The O-Man blathered about the environment but couldn't come up with a specific bill – any bill – sponsored by Democrats. Hayes tried to sell the virtues of his Independent candidacy but, when asked by Braude with which party he would caucus should he get elected, Hayes betrayed a naivite (if not an ignorance) of the Realpolitik which governs Washington. Like Hayes, Murphy exhibited a certain hubris regarding his fabulous powers as an individual who alone could save Washington from itself. Thompson attacked the whole idea of a two-party monopoly & advocated “including all voices” in political debate. Thankfully, viewers were spared another drive-by-lecture.

On Marty Meehan's War Chest & Broken Pledge

Braude asked Hayes if former Congressman Marty Meehan should retain the 4.8 million in his campaign coffers & if he was bothered by Meehan's violation of his term limits pledge. Hayes expressed his opposition to term limits & felt Meehan could do as he pleased with his campaign war chest. Tsongas echoed Hayes' response but did so in a way that exonerated Meehan from any taint of unseemliness (no surprise given that Meehan's wife is assisting the Tsongas campaign). Tsongas admitted that legislation should be passed so that war chests in the future will have their money disposed “in a more meaningful way”. Ogonowski expressed his support for term limits as well as his “disappointment” that Meehan violated his term limit pledge. Murphy expressed disgust at Meehan's 4.8 million dollar war chest & at the system that encouraged that level of hoarding ranging from the local to the national level of politics. Thompson said he opposed term limits as well as “lying or breaking a pledge”.

Closing Statements

Thompson used his time to pitch his Constitution Party as well as his website. His closing statements were lecture-free. Murphy closed with his pitch for a war tax (“shared sacrifice”), his pitch for socialized medicine, & his plan to improve education for ALL children. Murphy started to falter towards the end of his remarks & had to be cut off by Braude before he could finish his paen to himself as the district's Working Class Hero (cue John Lennon song of the same title). Hayes reiterated his value as an Independent free from the kind of partisan bickering that has angered voters in America. He scoffed at Tsongas' characterization of the election as a referendum on Bush as well as Ogonowski's interpretation of the race as a referendum on a broken Congress. For Hayes, the referendum is on the two-party system itself & asked the voters to check out his website for more information on his candidacy. Tsongas reiterated her key campaign points, offered a quick anecdote to flesh out one of her positions while rebuking Ogonowski (by name) on another position. She rattled off quick biographical bullet points & closed with a personal plea to MA-05 voters to embrace her as one of their own. If Tsongas' closing statement was the most polished of the five candidates, Ogonowski's meandering coda was probably the worst. Not once in his statement did the O-Man reiterate key issues associated with his campaign. He kicked off his comments with the usual tried & true talking points. Halfway through, though, Ogonowski began to stumble as if his batteries were running out of juice. At one point the O-Man paused & seemed uncomfortable before he excused himself & finished his statement.

Epilogue

Thompson & Murphy offered themselves as useful idiots for their respective ideologies. No sane voter can or should take them seriously but their respective candidacies will attract fringe voters on the Left & on the Right. If the general election is close, they could have some effect on the outcome. Hayes seems to be a more reasonable person but his blandness as a candidate & his lack of resources has doomed him to irrelevancy. Tsongas came across as polished & professional. She exuded the airs of a front runner & was careful not to do anything which would threaten her status. She knew when to be folksy & when to be a policy wonk. In my humble opinion, she “won” the debate. As an Ogonowski supporter, I was extremely disappointed with the O-Man's performance. He was on automatic pilot & didn't seize the many opportunities made available to him during the course of the debate. He needs to get his act together. He has it within himself to win this election but he must be engaged 100% on ALL fronts in order to succeed. Ogonowski supporters do him no favors if they remain silent in the face of his mistakes. I hope the O-Man is better prepared for the last debate scheduled at UMass Lowell. It will be his last chance to change perceptions – & to influence the ultimate verdict of his candidacy.

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