Thursday, August 12, 2004

Updated August 12, 2004 at 2:00 pm
Barack Obama/Alan Keyes/JFK/Oddly, good public policy makes good politics/Mark Kirk/Lauren Beth Gash/ Six debates it is.

Now four year Cong. Mark Steven Kirk (R- Deerfield) and then eight year State Rep. Lauren Beth Gash (D- Highland Park) appeared with each other in 33 forums in 2000 [a number of which were taped and aired on TV subsequently], when they were running for the open 10th Cong. Dist. Seat on the North Shore and beyond. And, I have not included in my count of 33 joint forums the show I did with the two appearing jointly on my “Public Affairs,” TV program. [Yes, they had 7 ½ months in contrast to the 3 months Alan Keyes/Barack Obama have; so fine, Obama/Keyes could still do 12 or so forums, including the six televised debates]

In light of that and in light of the excerpts from the Kass, Richards and Brown columns, this blog, the Chicago Tribune editorial and the exchanges between Berkowitz, Fornek, Shaw and Obama, below—it seems pretty clear that the good government imperative for Democratic U. S. Senate Candidate Barack Obama is to agree to at least 6 debates. Only Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn in his Aug. 12 blog entry [], excerpted below, dissents from that view.

However, more important than Obama maintaining his well developed image of a goo-goo, that is, a good government candidate, is the style he has developed over the last eight years as a state senator. Articulate and bright are the two words that show up most frequently when objective journalists describe Barack Obama.

But, of perhaps greater importance for Obama’s national goals-- including the U. S. Senate and beyond-- is his charm and the ease with which he handles a broad range of print and electronic media. Indeed, the Democratic politician star he most resembles, in style if not in substance, is JFK—President Kennedy, that is, not Presidential Candidate Kerry.

The press loved JFK in good part because of the charm, style and ease with which he handled them at press conferences and also for the same charm and graceful style he displayed in the famous 1960 debates. Everybody knows that Nixon won those debates if you were scoring it as you would in a debate tournament. But, Kennedy won the debates where it counted, in the media and in the hearts and minds of voters.

So, it is not just in the voters’ interest, as the Tribune argues, but it is in Barack Obama’s interest to go forward with the six debate challenge, which Obama proposed last June [in response to the anticipated challenge of Jack Ryan to ten debates]. That is, Obama should do the six debates if he wants to continue to be known for his charm, graceful style and integrity—the kind of attributes that would continue to separate him from the large field nationally and place him in that small group of contenders for VP and, ultimately, for POTUS [President of the United States].

Jeff Berkowitz [“Public Affairs” show host]: Barack, excuse me, you have twelve weeks left. His [Republican U. S. Senate Candidate Alan Keyes] point is, six debates, that is- [one] every other week. That is a reasonable pace, isn’t it?

Obama: [Laughter]

Scott Fornek [Chicago Sun-Times]: He [Keyes] is ready to debate today. He said, you walk in the room, the microphone’s there. You [can] put these together on a moment’s notice, he says.

Andy Shaw [ABC- 7 News]: Any time. Any place. What are you afraid of? He [Keyes] is saying.

Obama: Look [Laughter], as I said before. The guy has been here two days…we will have a debate in September; we have already committed to do two debates in October, and I think that that will be sufficient…
Press Conference held by Democratic U. S. Senate candidate Barack Obama, August 10, 2004, Harold Washington Library, Chicago, IL
-Contrary to Obama's stated scheduling concerns, 12 weeks is sufficient time to hold six debates…Nothing gets more boring in a hurry than a debate about debates and, in all honesty, three debates would probably have been plenty if Obama hadn't offered six. Mark Brown, Chicago Sun-Times Columnist, Aug. 11

-That is why Obama should live up to his earlier promise to engage in six debates with his general election opponent. Cindy Richards, Chicago Sun-Times Columnist, Aug. 11

-I was hoping for something more from Obama. I hoped he was as interested in ideas as he'd led us to believe. He has plenty of time to stand for six debates … If politics is theater, then Obama can play the cautious politician. Or he can play the man of ideas. But he can't play both. John Kass, Chicago Tribune Columnist, Aug. 11

-If Obama were smart about this, he’d say, “Sure I’ll debate you six times, and let’s start next week,” before Keyes gets a grip on Illinois issues…Voters have never been harmed by having more information about candidates [and]…their speaking styles…Chicago Tribune Editorial, Aug. 12

-In 1998, Eric Zorn proposed a new law: The top two candidates along with any other candidates winning more than 10 percent support in the polls must agree to four, one-hour, debate-style joint public appearances on four different days. And, Zorn now indicates that he is still fine with four debates. See, Aug. 12 blog entry.
Jeff Berkowitz, host and producer of “Public Affairs,” can be reached at