Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tucker Carlson & Donna Brazile Do Louisville

MSNBC anchor Tucker Carlson sparred with CNN's Donna Brazile over presidential politics last night in Louisville at the Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting.

When I asked Carlson afterwords for his thoughts on Mitch McConnell and Kentucky's U.S. Senate race, he responded, "I'm blinded by love." Noting that McConnell evokes strong reactions, both positive and negative, he observed that McConnell is "one of the smartest people ever to serve" in the U.S. Senate.

Carlson and Brazile each spoke for ten minutes --essentially stump speeches for John McCain and Barack Obama, respectively. Then Greenebaum, Doll & McDonald presiding partner Jeff McKenzie posed questions for the two and moderated their exchange. Although both Carlson and Brazile were smart, funny and engaging, Brazile, like Barack Obama, was thin on substance, and appeared to stall; she ran down the clock with myriad jokes about bourbon before addressing the subject of the election.

Carlson described the political climate "with great sadness" as subjecting Republicans to a "massive tail wind," reflected in fundraising results. He noted that Obama "is not just a candidate -- he's his own party," because Obama's campaign has raised more money than the Republican and Democratic parties combined. The media's coverage of Obama, moreover, is "a love that only 14 year old boys can understand."

The good news for Republicans, according to Carlson, is that Democrats "can still screw it up," which would cause a McCain victory "by default." He noted that Hillary Clinton would have been a stronger -- unbeatable -- candidate than Obama, because "she wins conservative Democrats. The rest follow."

Carlson praised Obama's political skills but suggested that his message of change is problematic. "Americans hate change. They flee from it." "We are a nation of merchants," Carlson said, and consequently recognize that most change -- unless it is incremental -- is destructive. Obama understands this and therefore has proposed policies that would make incremental improvements.

Obama's followers, however, do not want incremental change, according to Carlson. "They want French Revolution-style change." Obama's true believers (whom Carlson described as 20-something Starbuck's workers with backpacks covered with stickers) will scare the Clinton Democrats and independents. That is, the problem with the Obama campaign is not Obama; it's his movement. Carlson characterized Obama's challenge as more cultural than racial.

Brazile, in contrast to the nutroots, asserted that "there's nothing wrong with being a liberal." She never used the new nomenclature, "progressive." Brazile appeared to contradict herself by describing this as a"game changing election" that is not just about change but about "tackling old problems and rebuilding old alliances."

Her advice for the Obama campaign: return to the small gatherings he used in Iowa; listen more. She acknowledged that Obama's biggest weakness is what she described as a "stature gap" on national security. Carlson responded that Obama's biggest weakness is that "he has never done anything."

Carlson advised McCain to "remain a credible and responsible alternative" to Obama and hope that America wakes up in time. He joked that McCain's slogan should be "It could be worse." That's the difference between adults and children, and the heart of conservatism, according to Carlson. Grown-ups understand that it takes longer to build something than to tear it down.

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