Tuesday, October 05, 2004

This, That and the Other
What a night. First of all, a big raspberry to the Presidential Commission on Debates for scheduling the Edwards-Cheney faceoff opposite Game One of the Twins-Yankees tilt. Faced with a choice between two such clearcut contests of good versus evil, I watched the debate, but did manage to catch the two innings on each side of it. The Twins took a 2-0 victory, and on the Batgirl blog there was, I assume, much rejoicing.

(Update I/Side Note: at the risk of exposing Batgirl's secret identity after all, her fans might want to check out this fine article. And then complain to espn.com that it's not linked from their Twins homepage!)

After winning their Division Series opener against the Yanks a year ago and then dropping three straight before going home for the winter, Minnesota won't have overconfidence to worry about. But they did play in some good fortune tonight: I'll bet you'd have to go back quite a few years to find the last time the Yankees were shut out despite recording nine hits. Give the Twinkies defense a lot of credit: those five double plays (a record, by the way) weren't an accident, and Torii Hunter remains one of the very few guys in MLB whose defensive performance alone is worth the price of admission.

Similarly, Johan Santana probably cemented his newly acquired rep as the best pitcher in the game with seven shutout frames at the Stadium tonight. That Yankee lineup started off with four legit Hall of Fame candidates in Jeter, A-Rod, Sheffield and Bernie Williams, in addition to the very dangerous Matsui, Posada and Sierra. And they didn't cross the plate even once.

I think the Yankees needed this game. They couldn't hit Santana in last week's regular-season matchup, when he left after 5 innings with a 3-1 lead before the Twins bullpen blew it--by the way, whose bright idea was it to let Santana pitch against a team with excellent scouting and a host of analysts, just days before they knew they might have to send him out there for Game One?--and they couldn't reach him tonight despite getting guys in scoring position in both the first two innings. Now they'll have to beat him once to win the series, and in all likelihood they'll have to do it in the Metrodome where the Twins enjoy a pronounced homefield edge. Add in that Mike Mussina has been by far New York's most reliable starter, and the Minnesotans have to like how this series is shaping up.

I didn't watch any of the other two games, but Boston and St. Louis did about what I expected them to do in notching big wins. If Bartolo Colon doesn't come out and dominate the Red Sox tomorrow night, the Rally Monkey is probably headed for extinction this autumn.

Now to the debate.

I make no claim to impartiality here. I loathe Dick Cheney; to me he embodies everything wrong with the modern Republican Party, particularly the use of fear and division to advance a radical pro-corporate agenda. Revealingly, he kept responding to Edwards' substantive points about Halliburton by slinging mud at the Democratic ticket. He had no substantive rejoinder to those attacks (nor to Edwards' repeated points about what L. Paul Bremer said today regarding insufficient troop levels), because there is none--at least none that's politically viable. The strategists on both sides know that Cheney's conduct while at Halliburton was indefensible.

(Update II/Side note: regarding Ambassador Bremer, this fascinating and deeply troubling Salon.com article, written anonymously by an official currently serving, posits that he was the leading non-neoconservative candidate to replace Colin Powell at the Department of State in a second Bush term. He can probably kiss that hope goodbye after today's flap.)

I also enjoyed how he responded to Gwen Ifill's question about poverty in Cleveland, where the debate was held, with a meandering defense of the severely under-funded "No Child Left Behind"... and of course the obligatory line about tax cuts. Citizen Dick deserves credit for at least this month: even when ostensibly talking about the poor, he still manages to carry water for his fellow millionaires. And I guess he also merits some points for honesty in not even pretending to "feel the pain" of those drones fit only to clean his house and get shot in his wars.

My favorite part about Cheney's debate performance tonight had to be that in the first 45 minutes--the entirety of which was concerned with foreign policy--he mentioned Bush ONCE, by my count. It's almost enough to make one wonder just who calls the shots...

Edwards wasn't perfect tonight; he misspoke at several points, and he wasn't always sharp in his responses. But he did what he had to do in reiterating two crucial arguments: how badly the administration has botched the occupation in Iraq, and drawing contrasts between the Democrats' pro-middle class priorities on domestic policy, and the relentlessly pro-corporate Republican tilt that Cheney embodies. His closing statement was excellent, as was his concise and very hard-hitting argument about who benefitted from the Medicare prescription drug bill.

I wish he'd gotten into the administration lying and general procedural fuckery on Medicare--which Cheney brought up several times, giving Edwards a clear opening--and that he would have actually hit the populist notes even harder. But then again the Twins won, and a guy can't have everything.

One other point. I turned the post-debate coverage off pretty quickly to catch the last two innings of the Twins game, but I flipped back to CNN during the commercial and saw Jeff Greenfield make a point I completely agreed with: the utter uselessness and banality of the "Spin Alley" interviews after the debates. If I want to gauge how the candidates did, I somehow don't think Mary Beth Cahill or Ken Mehlman are likely to give me much insight.

I can see going to "experts" and discussing what just happened in roundtable form (although I'm not personally a big fan of that, either). But geez, what could the campaign operatives possibly tell you that the candidates failed to get across?

(Update III and last: the Washington Post already has a pretty detailed piece online fact-checking Cheney's numerous, er, "mistatements.")

Finally, a sad note: comedian Rodney Dangerfield, born Jacob Cohen ("One of us! One of us!") died today at age 82, from complications following heart surgery.

I can't think of any other comedian who provided me as many belly laughs and great memories as Rodney did in "Caddyshack" and "Back to School." He was also a pretty good dramatic actor, when he cared to be: his performance in "Natural Born Killers" was powerful and creepy in the extreme.

I also admired his work ethic--he performed live into his 80s--and willingness to innovate, as seen by the website he set up, way back in 1995, long before most comics half his age were utilizing the Internet.

Like many great comics, Rodney was able to transmute the sadness of his own life into laughs for the rest of us. I believe he suffered from fairly severe depression, something I know a little bit about myself.

Flights of angels, Rodney. You'll be missed, and you have my maximum respect.

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