Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Hardball and Sense of Message

Last evening I was a part of the audience when Hardball came to Stanford University and Chris Matthews took on the Governor of California. The score at the end of the hour, to the extent that anyone was keeping it was Arnold 1, Chris 0. Possibly the score was even wider than that.

I have worked around politicians for most of my career. In an opening question, Arnold was asked what he thought about gay marriage. He did an elegant dance without answering the question. Asked if he supported gay marriage - he said he did if the people did or the courts - yes he did support domestic partnerships but the voters should decide but they had decided on a previous initiative. And so he danced around this without ever offering something that any political opponent could nail him on. But then in a series of questions the Gov was able to get his message out clearly. Is he against nurses or teachers - no he is against unions.

There was one thing that bothered me. The Governor is remarkably flexible on who should make the decisions. The voters, OK. The court, OK. If we live in a Constitutional system, shouldn't there be some types of limits on how much the courts can do? Are there some questions that are outside of the realm of the courts. Justice Scalia in a speech to the Wilson Center took a slightly different tack when he suggested that the contract of the Constitution is just that - not moveable, not living. If the people want to amend the contract either through their elected representatives or through the ballot box, they can. But the job of justices is to look at the contract and see if an issue fits within those bounds. That view, while many would think it narrow, seems to be a better one. Were one to take the more living view of the Constitution, then why do you need yet another group (unelected) to make decisions?

The Governor's four issues - redistricting, budget control, pension reform, and education reform - got explained clearly and starkly. Matthews tried to bring all of the things you would expect him to bring up with a GOP governor. Special interests. Out sourcing. Girlie men (actually asked by a student). Even Steroids - you name it. But in each case he came back to the message - are you against teachers or nurses or seniors, asked Matthews? The Gov replied no teachers and nurses unions. He created a bunch of excellent soundbites that could be used in lots of ways.

He retold the story of passing through Soviet checkpoints in one of the breaks - and it was as compelling as it had been in the GOP convention.

He was asked a question I suspect he gets a lot - the inevitable question that has "Hail to the Chief" somewhere in the body - and unlike most of his recent predecessors - he did not look for ruffles and flourishes but rather completing his job he holds now. That response was refreshing. With the exception of George Deukmejian - the current incumbent is the only one in a long time not succumbing to the allure of Washington.

This was a worthwhile hour to watch a master of the political craft, even one who stoutly declines to be called a politician. If it is rebroadcast - it is worth seeing.

No comments: