Roar of disapproval or empathy deficit? Debaters differ

The Republican congressional landslide resulted from a “failure to communicate empathy,” not a rejection of Obama’s policies, says Susan Barnes–Gelt in the November round of Head On TV debates. Okay, says John Andrews, if this shellacking was an empathy deficit, Katrina was a light breeze. John on the right, Susan on the left, also go at it this month over Colorado election results in state and federal races, the media’s role in 2010 campaigns, and the wide–open contest for Mayor of Denver as Hickenlooper moves up. Head On, presented by the Centennial Institute since 2009, as been a daily feature on Colorado Public Television since 1997. Here are all five scripts for November:

1. OBAMA’S NEW REALITY

Susan: The victorious Republican party appears to be tone deaf. Interpreting election results as repudiation of Obama’s policy, is nuts. Results reflect anger and fear about jobs, Wall Street and the failure of Obama’s team to communicate empathy outside the beltway. Despite the numbers, R’s are off to a bad start.

John: The President’s electoral shellacking—as he called it—was no more an empathy deficit than Katrina was an afternoon breeze. The American people fired Nancy Pelosi and congressional Democrats in record numbers because they don’t like reckless spending, higher taxes, huge deficits, and Obamacare. Republicans are on probation, but we’re back.

Susan: Interesting, because the American people don’t feel like they’re back. Unless you count the top 2 percent of the richest—tax cuts for millionaire/billionaires is not economic stimulus, creates no jobs, builds no public infrastructure. As Warren Buffet says, “guys like me can afford it.”

John: Democrats with unchecked power in Washington the past two years put America on track to become a fiscal train wreck like Greece. The Republican House by itself can’t reverse that, but they can moderate Obama’s drunken spending and resist his job–killing war on free enterprise. Well done, voters!

2. COLORADO ELECTION RESULTS—FEDERAL

Susan: The US Senate race was Ken Buck’s to lose—and he did! Bennet won by a close margin because Buck pandered to the wing–nuts and tea partiers. Perlmutter won his race by a substantial margin because he worked hard. Markey and Salazar were tea party casualties.

John: Colorado’s House delegation, now 4–3 Republican, will defend our liberty and prosperity by standing against European–style socialism. Cory Gardner on the eastern plains and Scott Tipton on the western slope will represent us well. Michael Bennet, Obama’s puppet in the Senate, beat Ken Buck with the politics of personal destruction.

Susan: Puleeze. It’s that kind of thinking that led to the decline of the Roman and British empires. The notion that private interest trumps public benefit is irrelevant in the face of diminishing global resources. Partisan bickering isn’t the solution.

John: The fall of Rome occurred when a virtuous republic of self–reliant freemen and citizen soldiers became a decadent despotism that deified its leaders and quit defending its borders. Americans took a step back from that slippery slope on election day. What you call partisan bickering, I call democracy—thank goodness!

3. COLORADO ELECTION RESULTS—STATE

Susan: Hickenlooper won because your party self–destructed. Down ticket candidates Kennedy and Buescher lost because voters are cranky about the status quo. Hick will have an easier time with a divided legislature. His command of the bully pulpit is superb, though he’ll have to grow a thick skin.

John: For six years Democrats dominated the gold dome. Now divided government returns, and for the public interest that’s good. Congratulations to GOP House Speaker Frank McNulty, Treasurer Walker Stapleton, and Secretary of State Scott Gessler. And to Teflon John Hickenlooper, the first Denver mayor to become governor since the 1880s.

Susan: Hick is more than non–partisan. He’s a–partisan. His ability to get along with everyone, in the interest of solving problems for Coloradans will set the bar. If hyper–partisans can’t rise to the challenge, voters will boot ’em. Stapleton and Gessler will disappoint— big time.

John: Hickenlooper is lucky as much as anything. First the incumbent governor washed out. Then his three Republican opponents stumbled over each other like Curly, Moe, and Larry. Teflon John now faces a huge job to clean up the budget and revive the economy. I think you’ll see he’s all too human.

4. OPEN RACE FOR DENVER MAYOR

John: Hickenlooper will be the first governor in a century elected from the Denver mayor’s office. Voters could do themselves a favor by replacing him with the first mayor in half a century elected from the Republican side. The city is overtaxed, unsafe, and losing jobs. Denver needs a Rudy Giuliani.

Susan: John, you know Denver political offices are non–partisan. That’s why it works. Taxes and fees in Denver are the lowest in the metro area, because the city has the largest commercial districts. Denver’s next mayor must have a clear vision, a thick skin and an iron backbone.

John: I’m a suburban guy, but Denver’s vitality is important to all Coloradans. Economic and cultural leadership moving from the core city to the outer ring isn’t good. So who do you like for mayor, Susan—Chris Romer, Michael Hancock, James Mejia, Carol Boigon? Maybe you should run.

Susan: I’d love to run—articulate a bold vision, set clear priorities, inspire people to be the best they can be. Truth is, the only thing holding me back is finding someone more focused, ambitious and disciplined than I, to serve.

5. HOW WELL DID THE MEDIA PERFORM IN THIS CAMPAIGN?

John: I’m glad the political ads are finally off the air, but I sure love our free press. In Russia or Venezuela, critics of the regime are muzzled or murdered. In America, the Supreme Court protects their freedom of speech, and we the voters can throw the bums out. What a country, Susan,

Susan: The bigger problem is who pays for political ads—independent, anonymous committees spent $30 million+ in Colorado. Special interests owned the debate—on both sides of the aisle, to no one’s benefit. Lack of disclosure and transparency do one thing that’s bad for D’s and R’s –abet voter cynicism!

John: There was no cynicism in this year of the Tea Party. This was a free society and representative government at its best. New media helped empower political outsiders as never before. Thoughtful discussion in Colorado suffered with the absences of the Rocky Mountain News, but talk radio and TV did their part.

Susan: Thoughtful talk radio and Cable news— an oxymoron! Opinionators passing themselves off as journalists—whether it’s Fox News or Keith Olbermann—does little to advance civic dialogue or critical thinking. Today’s media (lame stream?) is looking for its soul.

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