Saturday, February 27, 2010

Class iPOPA: Carson-Elrod-Shepherd Debate for the 7th District

I'm a day late with my "Classic iPOPA Monday," which is where I pull one for the archieves for the new readers on the first Monday of the month. Another post understandably took precedence yesterday. Newbies, enjoy! If you've been an iPOPA reader from day one, you needn't linger here because you've probably already seen.....


I've just returned from the great 7th District debate at IUPUI featuring Andre Carson (D), Jon Elrod (R), and Sean Shepherd (L), and I've reached the following conclusion.....

Libertarians are entertaining.

In P.J. O'Rourke's book Parliament of Whores, he states that "in the American political system, you're only allowed to have real ideas if it's absolutely guaranteed that you can't win an election."

Maybe this is why Sean Shepherd was the most engaging personality on the stage tonight. When asked about legalizing marijuana, Mr. Shepherd did not directly support the same, but he pointed out that a family of seven never gets run over by someone who has smoked too many joints. The only thing they do, Shepherd said, is clog up the fast food drive-thru. The crowd burst out laughing.

Mr. Carson took umbrage and pointed out that drug use is not something at which one laughs and that he knows "ten crackheads" who began on marijuana. Mr. Carson's point was undoubtedly not to emphasize that he knows more crackheads than most voters in the 7th District, but rather, to emphasize marijuana's standing as a "gateway drug." This was expected law enforcement dogma from a man who worked in law enforcement, and it was echoed by Elrod in standard Republican "law and order" dogma. And that's the problem. Only a libertarian could entertain the idea of serious debate on this issue because it's too dangerous for the other two, seeing they have better than a snowflake's chance of winning.

But I won't bore you with the details of how many people we have incarcerated for life for possessing marijuana on a "third strike," or how many hundreds of thousands fewer die each year from marijuana than alcohol and cigarettes, which are also "gateway" drugs, or how much money the government could make taxing marijuana, or how legalizing marijuana would reduce violent crime associated with its distribution, just like it did when we re-legalized alcohol. You aren't allowed to think about that.

Shepherd also had the best line of the night. On gay marriage: "We need to get government out of the marriage business. The Bible says, 'Give to Caesar things that are Caesars.' I say we take from Caesar things that are God's."

Libertarians might be thought of as a fringe party, but they know a good sound bite. Libertarian wit, along with knowing the formula for a space-age, super-adhesive, are the keys to the vitality of the Libertarian Party in Indianapolis. This is no joke. Some aluminum lamp posts downtown still have bumper stickers for Libertarian Kurt St. Angelo from the 10th district race he ran in 1996 against Julia Carson.

Shepherd also seemed to have superior knowledge on most issues. He had a lot of statistics at his fingertips that he used to illustrate his points. Admittedly, 72% of statistics are made up on the spot, so he could have been lying to us all. But if you know somebody who cares enough to fact-check whether it's true that it cost $1.29 in conventional fuel to create $1.00 worth of corn-based ethanol, I hope you'll let me know. Either Shepherd possesses a broad intellect, or he reads a lot of books like "Medicare Part B for Dummies."

I know. People want to know, "What about Andre Carson? What about Jon Elrod?" I'm reluctant to criticize any of these three political gladiators. They stood on that stage for ninety minutes on live TV under intense media scrutiny that would have left mere mortals huddled in the fetal position.

Oh, what the hell.

Elrod came off slightly mechanical, and he said that he wanted to be my "neighborhood congressman" so many times, I was waiting for him to put on a sweater and take us by train to see King Friday in the Land of Make Believe.

Paying homage to irony, Elrod repeated a soundbite about the typical Washington, D.C. politics and soundbites that epitomize campaigns. But he came off as sensible and likeable. To his credit, Elrod refused to make religion an issue, pointing out there is no religious test to hold office. In a line that would make Eric Miller cringe (which makes me like Elrod), he noted that an office holder can be of any religion or NO religion. He also said that if Andre Carson were elected, he could be sworn in upon whatever holy text he wanted to use. One wonders what the crowd’s reaction would have been had Elrod “let loose” of his programming.

Carson, while very charismatic, also hit a “message rut” by referring to “senior citizens” as “precious” so many times, I had to leave the auditorium to call my grandmother and tell her I love her.

I’ve seen Mr. Carson in social settings just talking one-on-one about issues, and he can be incredibly sharp when he’s his own man. But tonight, it was as if he was so focused on staying “on message” for the campaign that he came “off message” for some questions. Only once (on a question about federal earmarks during which Mr. Carson waxed appreciatively about dinosaurs at the Children’s Museum) did his compassion and well-measured sentimentality show through.

I don’t blame Mr. Carson though. I believe the DCCC stole his personality by chocking him full of “talking points,” and I'd like for the DCCC to give him his soul back. Just like with Elrod, when a candidate strains to hit certain pre-programmed responses, they lose their individuality, spontaneity, and humanity. Of course, they also win that way, which is why Senator Bayh keeps getting elected while boring the hell out of us all.

Don't get it twisted, people. I hold the Senator in high regard. He is why I’m a Democrat. His campaign for Governor was the first on which I ever worked. I still have an autographed photo of him in my house somewhere.

But when was the last time you heard him give a speech that really moved you like he did back in 1988 or 1992 when he spoke with more urgency? (I miss the wordsmithing of Will Fay).

I think that’s what happens when you become too cautious. You become boring. Sean Shepherd had us in his palm tonight because he had nothing to fear. Including the fear of being elected.


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