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Debate Scorecard: My Rundown of Winners and Losers

September 25th, 2003

I just watched my tape of the California debate; here’s my assessment of the winners and losers, from the best-performing to the worst:

1. Cruz Bustamante. He definitely won the evening for a few different reasons. First, he didn’t try to sugar-coat anything; he didn’t give the rather unbelievable lines given by others that they could balance the budget and increase value delivered without raising taxes. He made it clear that “the easy things have been done, and now it’s time to do the tough things” [paraphrase]. Second, he was humble; he admitted when there was something he’d done wrong, and outlined how things would change; he even accepted blame where blame was not fully his–after all, the lieutenant governor has less power and responsibility than the legislature or the governor. Third, he came across as reasonable and agreeable, being the only one not to lash out to anyone else, or to raise his voice. The only departure from that was when he was somewhat condescending to Huffington; even so, it was on a topic that rung true: he’s one of the only ones that realizes the realities of the system, and that you can’t just ride in to Sacramento and do anything you want; there’s a system, and you have to understand it to do anything.

2. Tom McClintock. This was a tough one, and Peter Camejo almost took the place. McClintock gets second place for clarity, for getting his message across, and for being the next-most-agreeable member of the panel. He stated his case with less glitz, jabs, and one-liners, and more with plainly stated views. That said, he also tended to go way over his allotted time, and breezed over budget-cutting proposals that were too fantastic to be true (obviously ignoring political realities). His line on illegal immigration rang hollow, saying that illegal immigrants “cut in line” in front of “millions” waiting in line to come here legally. The fact is, the industries that so badly need immigrant workers (as Bustamante made clear with his important stats on how California depends on these people) do not grant the visas needed for enough people to come in legally, so they can hire illegal workers whom they can pay less and for whom they can avoid paying benefits.

3. Peter Camejo. He winds up more in the honorable mention category, for making sense in many places, and pointing out a few real problems with the system–but at the same time, focusing too much on those few issues, and not realistically addressing a lot of other issues. Like McClintock and Schwarzenegger especially, he did not seem to recognize the political realities that do not allow a governor to do whatever he pleases. For example, he complained that corporations do not pay their fair share, and I completely agree with him on that. However, the fact remains that there is a bidding war for businesses to invest in states, and, as McClintock pointed out, if other states offer better terms and lower taxes, we could lose those businesses. He scored big points for pointing out the inequities, and for wanting to build in the right places rather than making the cuts McClintock and Schwarzenegger avoid mentioning but would have to do to avoid making things worse; but he loses points for not being realistic in how to accomplish these goals, coming in closely behind McClintock in that area.

4. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He scores below average for the usual reasons: strong on flash, but low on substance. He gets honorable mention for one-liners, and will likely win applause for (a) showing up, (b) being famous, and (c) not self-destructing. Outside that, however, I believe he performed poorly. He was far too bellicose, interrupted and condescended to others, and had little substance behind his words. He was quick to point out what was wrong, and avoided cutting to the chase on the realities of actual solutions. For example, at one point he said, “… when we bring jobs back and the economy is booming, then we create more revenue and then we can afford some of the programs and are also able to pay off the debt….” Well, that’s fine. But how do we bring back the jobs? He sounds good by pointing out the problems and saying how nice things will be when the problems are fixed. But he fails badly at telling us how he realistically plans to get from point A to point B.

5. Arianna Huffington. This was disappointing, because when this whole thing started, she was my favorite. But she has continually disappointed me, and tonight was no different. She was even more flash-over-substance than Arnold, was the most combative, attacking just about everyone, jumped off-topic all over the place, and failed to really state the case as to how she would fix things. She relied more of flashy accusations, and referenced the Bush administration too many times, while failing to state the case as to how that was relevant. She may be right on many of the issues and I think she’d be way better than Schwarzenegger or McClintock, but she just did not come across well tonight–too combative, not constructive enough.

Other observations: McClintock did not criticize Schwarzenegger at all, and Schwarzenegger spoke (after the debate) of he and McClintock being a “team,” which leads to some worries for the left. One gets the strong impression that McClintock is staying in the race to become a known quantity, get his name and face out there, and have his day in the sun. But he’s too low in the numbers to have any chance of winning, and it is not hard to guess that he will agree to pulling out in exchange for major political concessions from Schwarzenegger and the GOP. If he does pull out of the race, likely in a week or so as I feel he will, and if Camejo and Huffington stay in (as they will) and pull votes away from Bustamante, this could mean a victory for Schwarzenegger. Not a good sign at all. Usually, I would not be too troubled by a moderate Republican with liberal social views, but Schwarzenegger comes across as not the person to fix the problems–and exactly the kind of person who would delegate important positions in the state government to people much more to the right than he is, to do a much greater damage, especially when it comes to turning the machinery of the state of California to help Bush win in 2004, like Jeb Bush’s people did so destructively in Florida in 2000.

A good transcript of the debate is available at the San Francisco Chronicle.

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