Monday, July 21, 2014

The debate debate in the U.S. Senate race

Posted By on Mon, Jul 21, 2014 at 9:21 AM

Debates over debates are a tradition in political campaigning. A tiresome tradition.

In this year's race for U.S. Senate, Odd Tom Cotton opened the bidding with a nightmarish proposal for hours of unmoderated debating from Bodcaw to Burdette, a la Lincoln-Douglas.  Democratic incumbent, U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, declined to be drawn into that. And a grateful state thanks him, save those in need of non-prescription sleep aids.

In the face of incessant whining from the Cotton camp — Tom Cotton would meet Mark Pryor anywhere, anyhow, any format, his handlers insisted — Pryor took the initiative. He let it be known that HE had agreed to a statewide debate on AETN (third party candidates included). He also said HE had agreed to a mano-a-mano debate sponsored in Fayetteville by the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce and moderated by Roby Brock, who was once suggested by Cotton himself as a fair moderator for a TV debate.

Today, the Pryor campaign notes, Anytime Tom has not yet confirmed an appearance on the AETN debate and has missed a deadline to firm up his appearance at the Fayetteville program at the University of Arkansas.

Cotton's people WERE able to send a video tracker after Pryor last week and encourage TV reporters to tag along to ask him about debates on THEIR TV stations. As if that's THE major issue for voters in this election — whether Pryor will appear on a debate on KATV in a format dictated by Tom Cotton.

I'm more interested in Cotton votes against the farm bill; against nutrition assistance for the needy; against disaster relief; for privatization of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security; against birth control coverage; for legislation that could make the morning after pill for rape victims illegal; for legislation that could make in vitro fertilization impossible; against the Violence Against Women Act; for employment discrimination against gay people; against an improved student loan program;  for military intervention all over the globe; Cotton's absence of cross-aisle votes in Congress; his resistance to immigration reform; his slavish devotion to the Club for Growth; and on and on. KATV's debate offer is pretty far down my list.

In any case, Pryor's campaign has decided to turn to the debate debate, too. A pity. But given the Cotton camp's successful manipulation of TV reporters on the issue, I don't blame them doing a news release of their own:

“It’s pretty straightforward: Congressman Cotton has repeatedly insisted that he’s ready to defend his reckless and irresponsible record anytime under any circumstances, and we’ve now agreed to two proposals that give him exactly that opportunity,” said Pryor for Senate spokesman Erik Dorey.

“Mark looks forward to these debates as proposed in Conway and Fayetteville, just like Arkansans look forward to finally hearing Congressman Cotton explain why seniors should wait until they’re 70 for Medicare and Social Security, families should be without disaster relief to rebuild after devastating storms and women should earn less than a man for doing the same job,” Dorey said.

Let's debate, by all means. Maybe somebody has missed the well-rehearsed talking points on millions of dollars of paid TV. Why not put some on free TV, too. Maybe then the TV reporters will focus on something besides a mostly meaningless debate debate.

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