Oregon’s 3rd district hopefuls met again this last Saturday night for a second debate. Delia Lopez, the only Republican running this year, did not participate, but Jeff Lawrence, the Libertarian candidate, put his candidacy in the spotlight with his participation. Lawrence was matched up against Michael Meo (PGP) and John Sweeney (D) in what proved to be a better debate than the first, even if the attendance in this debate was less than that of the first. More on that later.
The banter between Lopez and Michael Meo (PGP) during the prior debate certainly featured its share of amicable sparring, but this debate was a little more heated. The back and forth between Lawrence and Meo was respectful and professional, but the ideas of the Green party and the Libertarian party are so totally divergent that when they started taking on each other’s statements in riposte, one could feel the tension mount in the audience. To add to that stressor, this debate’s topic was health care reform. What’s that you say? A Libertarian and a progressive arguing welfare? Load the rifle, Mabel! We finally got ourselves a good ol’ fashioned political shoot out!
It may be needless to mention that perennial incumbent, Earl Blumenauer (the bow-tied one) was nowhere near Benson High School on Saturday night. Earl doesn’t debate. Earl knows the folly of bringing a bowtie to a gunfight.
This being Jeff Lawrence’s first debate in this campaign, we really didn’t know what to expect. The format of the debate was Q&A from the audience. This meant that all the candidates had to have their hands on their holster from the get-go. Lawrence certainly did.
Lawrence’s weapon of choice houses the ‘sustainability’ bullet in its chamber:
“We typically talk about environmental issues when we talk about sustainability. But I believe sustainability as a notion applies to a broad range of issues. It applies to economics. It applies to social issues. And it really applies to health care as well.”
It was hard to gauge the crowd’s reaction to Lawrence’s opening statement since the audience did not applaud for any of the opening statements. But, the applause for the Libertarian’s views gained in strength as the crowd figured out it was okay to do so.
Lawrence gunned down each question as it came to him from this standpoint: What is sustainable? From his perspective, the current system and the new HCR law are both unsustainable. Lawrence sites the mammoth government entitlement programs such as Medicaid as examples of how ineffective government has proven to be when it comes to sustainable, economically sound answers to real-life problems.
The one thing that stood out about Lawrence above the other candidates, however, was his array of approaches. Certainly “sustainability” served as Lawrence’s six-shooter, but he also came armed with the messages of “personal accountability”, “liberty” and the reinforced idea that “principles matter.”
After hearing all of the introductory statements by Lawrence, Sweeney and Meo, Lawrence was clearly the favorite to walk away from this debate unscathed.
T’would not be so.
Sometimes your gun just jams. Jeff Lawrence could tell you that. Lawrence experienced a pregnant pause that lasted a good ten seconds while in the middle of his response to a question that dealt with the “flaws of HCR”. Now, ten seconds may not seem like a long time in the real world, but in a shoot out? Dead meat. And certainly the pause affected Lawrence for the duration of that answer. Even though the topic was a complex, many-tiered one and this was Lawrence’s first debate, these are not excuses for the confusion on Lawrence’s behalf.
But there is one reason why we give Lawrence a pass on the pregnant pause: he used it to his advantage. Later in the debate, at the end of his response to the topic of “rationing health care”, Lawrence looked right at Micheal Meo and paused, still holding the microphone to his mouth. When Meo lifted his hands as if to ask “is that it?” Lawrence fired the best shot of the night: “I love rationing” said the Libertarian, and handed the mic to an obviously impressed and now stuttering Meo. Priceless.
The rest of Lawrence’s answers were clear and concise and engaging. In fact, the farther along the event progressed, the better Lawrence performed. His closing statement received the loudest applause (even if the opening statement received none). You can’t define “getting better as you go along” in more clear terms than that. He was not afraid to engage a more seasoned Michael Meo, whose experience includes garnering 4.4 percent of this district’s vote in 2008.
Overall, Lawrence did quite well and I can easily see him drawing down his ‘sustainability’ six-gun on the bow-tied one in an upcoming debate. Don’t cross your fingers.
John Sweeney, Democrat: Present.
Actually, that’s not quite fair. Sweeney, after all, may have been the bravest (not the word most would chose, I know) candidate to take a stand at the Benson Corral on Saturday: he has to do the walk-ten-paces-turn-and-fire-thing with Earl Blumenauer in the Democrat primary. Ouch! And yes, Sweeney came armed…with an interstellar ballistic missile defense system…for asteroids…again. Okay, when Earth burns under the stone rain of Near Earth Object X, the joke’s on us. Until then, Mr. Sweeney needs to prepare for the debate regarding the issue at hand. Sweeney was ducking for cover the whole time as the other two candidates were peppering the auditorium with some healthy, constructive debate. Sweeney rambled on about anything from how far a sneeze travels to uh, well…some other stuff.
Michael Meo of the Pacific Green Party is definitely not a gun type of a guy. Instead, he brought arrows:
That’s right. Arrows. And he’s not afraid to use them—all at the same time if he has to. If there is one chink in Meo’s rawhide, it is his propensity for shooting too many arrows at once. Of course, this is not a flaw if your arrows strike true. And Meo certainly was a straight-shooter in the first debate.
In this debate, when Meo says things like: “the highest cause of bankruptcies in the United States are medical costs”, that is a bulls-eye. Meo used terms like “single payer” and “fundamental” in conjunction and often. As with the first debate, no one should have left the debate without a concise understanding of Mr. Meo’s principles. And like the last debate, Meo was the most prepared with citations and/or well-researched talking points. Meo displayed a venerable dexterity even when dodging bullets, like he did with the question: “what portion of the Constitution empowered Congress to pass health care?” Mr. Meo did a very good job explaining the impact of the Marbury case and tying the recently passed HCR law to the Constitution via the previous rulings of the Supreme Court. To be sure, Meo’s quiver was stocked, his poise: steady to strike. He could not lose this debate…unless something strange was to happen. Guess what? Something strange happened.
One has to wonder what happened to Mr. Meo on Saturday night. On a number of occasions he had the arrow knocked, ready to fly…then…nothing—or worse, he shot himself in the foot. For example, Meo cited the Veteran’s Administration as an example of an effective, economically sound government program. Meo obviously hasn’t seen this. Or this. Or even this. Actually, the list of these reports are practically endless. The public expects an intellectual candidate such as Meo, one who has proven he can do the research, to actually do it.
Another expectation of debaters is: the words you use, matter–especially in a rapid-fire, ideological debate. When Meo says things like: “We provide free, comprehensive fire coverage” while making the argument that health care should be free as well, we can probably chalk that up to a misfire and move along. Everyone, including Michael Meo, knows the fire department is not free. But when Meo says of our current system: “We give the best health care to the rich and our poorest health care to the poor” he’s effectively doubled-back on himself. Not even missionaries give health care to anyone. Everything is funded by someone, somewhere. To imply, accidentally or not, that health care is free once is questionably passable, but to do it twice—in a matter of minutes—is a signal that the well-armed, well-informed Pacific Green Party candidate has lost focus.
Words matter. And in the gallery of debate, no words matter more than your closing statement. Perhaps the most logic-defying statement of the night came from Meo, and that’s saying something when John Sweeney is hiding behind the General Store tinkering with a long-range missile launcher. Here’s part of Meo’s close:
“I am perfectly well aware of the fact that one of the largest health care disasters of the twentieth century was the Soviet Empire, East Germany and Central Europe. They had for twenty years, and they’re still going through it, a period of time when the average lifespan went down because people were completely made powerless by a system that took their ability to control their lives away from them. On the other hand, they did have good health care.”
Now, if this isn’t example of not being able to hit the broad side of a barn, I don’t know what is. Which is it? Was the Soviet health care system a “disaster” or “good”?
To be fair, Meo’s explanation of judicial review was as good, if not better than these scattered faux pas were bad. Linking the Constitution to government mandates is simply not an easy thing to do, for anyone. Even Barack Obama himself admitted that his administration did a poor job of communicating with the public on issues such as this. Meo’s explanation could be used by college professors to explain the judicial review process, it was that good. If Meo had carefully constructed each of these topics the way he did the Constitutionality question, he would have proven to be the fastest shooter in the West—even with his arrows. Meo can do better. Saturday simply wasn’t his night.
A final note:
There are 684,279 residents in district 3. Less than forty of them came to see this debate. In fact, the crowd was so sparse at this Saturday’s debate, we half-expected tumble weeds to start rolling across the auditorium floor. And while it may not be wise to expose too much of yourself when an actual gunfight is going down, the munitions being spent in Saturday’s debate were only verbal in kind. These cannot hurt you, people. Sticks and stones, and all that. You would think people in this city would care just a little bit more about the brave gunslingers who walked the ten paces to draw down on each other that night. Alas, no. You would think people would care that some of these candidates are spending money out-of-pocket to finance their pioneering efforts. These are the candidates that truly care about what is happening in this country and who have stood up to defend their values. Say what you will about how fast John Sweeney is going to be perforated by Earl Blumenauer’s Washington-funded Gatling gun in the primary, at least he was there on Saturday. And he is the one who will go down doing what 684,245 people refused to do.