Monday, August 11, 2014

How to Shake Hands and Other Pictures and Notes From The Republican Senate Debate

The Wendy Williamson auditorium stage was converted to a television studio.  The media panel is seated waiting for the candidates to take their spots.  I sat at this angle because there were tv cameras on stage blocking  closer views of the candidates.

It was a pretty empty auditorium. People were scattered all around.   This photo was just before the debate began.

Joe Miller supporters were the most visible and vocal part of the audience.

I'd brought my notebook, but I took a smaller backpack that didn't have any pens or pencils.  So my notes are all in my head, and unaided memory is tricky.  So double check what I write.  I did look to see if KTVA or ADN has the whole debate up [If either does, I couldn't find it] and I checked on what others wrote to confirm my memory. And make corrections.
[Wrong again - I found it linked at the #akdebate Twitter feed - you can see it all here.  I don't have 90 minutes right now.  But I may do updates or a follow up post later if I have time.  Updates done after I post - unless they're minor typos or style cleaning without changing the meaning - are identified with "UPDATE" and the date.]

NOTE:  I strive to be as objective as I can.  Usually that means describing what I see.    This post will also describe how I felt, which gets a little squishier, but I'm still trying to give description rather than judgment.  Others (Mudflats and ADN for example)  have written about what was said last night.  I'm going to try to add to that my sense of the non-verbal communication.  And my collective gut reactions that seemed to come together at the debate.

Sullivan's Handshakes - Not Much Eye Contact

Looking at the photos afterward, I was struck by the initial handshaking among the candidates.  These are just photos, not video, so it may be a fluke of the moments I shot the pictures, but look at Dan Sullivan's eyes as he's shaking hands with his opponents. [I did check the video on this before posting.  It cuts to the audience when Miller and Sullivan shake, and in the brief part they got of Sullivan and Treadwell shaking hands Sullivan does look at him.]

Miller and Sullivan shaking hands

Sullivan and Treadwell shaking hands

What I learned about shaking hands long ago is consistent with this advice from
Make eye contact and offer a sincere smile to show that you are happy to be where you are.
Be still and face the other person to prevent giving the impression that you are in a hurry to get away. If you are walking, try to stop, turn, and face the other person, unless it creates an awkward situation.
As I proof this post, it's clear that it was body language like this and how he talked  that shaped my impressions of Sullivan.  He didn't show he was 'happy to be where [he was].'  He didn't prevent 'giving the impression that [he was] in a hurry to get away.'   These photos are the only tangible evidence I have of this, but I kept getting the message throughout the debate.

Treadwell and Miller seem to have learned the proper handshake protocol.  
Miller and Treadwell shaking hands

Miller - Had the Most Fun

Miller seemed to be having the most fun.  He got easy questions from his opponents, he had his crowd in the audience, and when you have a black and white view of the world, it's easy to give firm, definitive answers.  He wanted,  for example,  a total freeze on all new regulation and absolutely no amnesty.  But life isn't black and white.  He said something like, "I believe in family and the children on the border should be sent back home to their families."  What if their  parents are living legally in the US?  Or one is?   [KTVA's coverage has this:
“The most humanitarian thing, in my view, is to reunite them with their families in their countries,” Sullivan said.
So I probably have Miller and Sullivan mixed up on this one.  Or maybe both said something similar.] 
Photo from Histor-C

Watching Miller, I couldn't help thinking of Richard Nixon.  I think it was the hair, the bags under his eyes, the five o'clock shadow and the finger pointing.  He also conveys the same belief in his possession of the truth. 

Miller:  Some of My Best Relatives are . . .

Those weren't his exact words, when challenged by panelist Dermot Cole about the tattooed hoodlums on his mailer that said "Begich wants them to vote . . . and if 20 million illegals vote you can kiss the Second Amendment goodbye."  At least he's being honest about his opposition to amnesty - he doesn't want these folks to become US voters.
He followed this up by telling the audience he has a Mexican son-in-law and an Indonesian brother-in-law.  There was another brother-in-law but I forgot where he was from. [Joeforliberty says the other one is from India.]  Is that supposed to make his racist* mailer ok? The other two took somewhat more nuanced positions, though all three were against federal regulations and Obama's handling of immigration.

Sullivan:  The Perfect Resume in the Wrong State?

Sullivan seemed the most out of place.   There's something about the way he talks.  While he spoke articulately and without hesitation (most of the time) I felt he was a bit defensive and he sounded like he was trying to figure out what the best answer would be for this audience.  When asked in the lightening round if he had written in Lisa Murkowski in the last election, there was a long pause.  His team hadn't prepared him for this one.  Finally he said 'no.'

So, did he vote for his current opponent Joe Miller?  Jeanne Devon, at the Mudflats, raises the possibility that he was still technically a resident of Maryland and so didn't vote here at all.  But he was the Alaska Attorney General.

He also hesitated when asked if he'd ever been arrested. He said no.  Was he weighing whether it had been expunged from the record or not?    I think his comments on tribal governance and the lawsuits he worked on for the state bear some scrutiny.

His body language was like the handshake - it all said he didn't want to be here, he'd rather be somewhere else.

When I first encountered Sullivan at his confirmation hearing for Attorney General in 2010, I felt he had the perfect resume and wrote at that time:
"And I wouldnʻt be surprised to see Mr. Sullivan running for Governor or Senator sometime.  How about a Republican primary with Mayor Dan Sullivan running against AG Dan Sullivan?"
Now both Dan Sullivans are running for statewide office, just not the same one.

In the military, there is almost a checklist for the things you have to do if you want to keep getting promoted.  Sullivan's resume looks like he was following a checklist for higher office.  It's really impressive.  And then he lucked out by marrying a woman from a state with a very low population where the odds were better than in his home state of Ohio.  This is the United States and people can travel from state to state and become residents of other states.  Ted Stevens grew up in California and became "Mr. Alaska."  But Sullivan's opponents have been hitting hard on this point - he's not really an Alaskan yet.  Usually people run for lower level offices before tackling US Senator, so that rubs people the wrong way too.

Watching Sullivan last night I got the feeling that he isn't quite comfortable here - he has crashed the party so to speak.  Were my gut reactions after sleeping on this just based on what I brought to the debate last night or does what I already knew merely help explain what I saw?  I can't tell.

Treadwell - The Real Alaskan Who's Peeved These Others Are Blocking His Rightful Place?

That's the sense I got from Treadwell last night.  He suggested several times that he'd been
working on projects others raised - sustainable energy in rural Alaska, Alaska's role as an arctic state - and with people they mentioned - Wally Hickle mainly - before they were even in Alaska.  I got the sense from what he said, that he was thinking, "Look, I'm the sensible one in the room, the real Alaskan.  I don't simplify complex issues like immigration or global warming. You guys shouldn't even be on this stage with me."

If I had had a pen and taken notes, I could flesh this out better.  When Sullivan talked about natural gas as the salvation for rural Alaska energy costs, Treadwell said he'd been doing alternative, sustainable energy projects in rural Alaska since the 1990s.  In response to a question from one of the panelists - I think Cole again - on whether they would keep coverage for pre-existing conditions now in Obamacare, he rebuffed Miller's "I don't think the government should tell people what they have to do.  They should choose what they want." (Huh?  Did he mean the insurance companies?  Or did he mean people with pre-existing conditions should be able to choose coverage that no one is offering?)  Treadwell referenced his wife's cancer and how pre-existing conditions shouldn't prevent one from getting health care.  [Is this just one more example of how people only 'get it' when they have personal experience with an issue?]  He also was more nuanced about regulation - though he said he's changed his mind about approving the Law of the Sea treaty.  I believe he conditioned it on the US not being controlled by outside interests. 

This Was A TV News/Entertainment Show

We had a bit of dramatic music leading in to each segment with the appropriately serious deep voice telling us what was about to happen.

Candidates and panelists got make-up touch-ups during breaks.  Now, that's a manly Alaskan image.  But since Nixon's poor performance in his debate with Kennedy, everyone gets makeup now.
ADN's Nathaniel Herz - Dermot Cole fuzzy on right

The media panelists stood their ground in attempts to get the candidates to answer the questions and not change the subject.  ADN's Nathaniel Herz jumped in several times to interrupt a candidate who'd veered off track.  And you could hear both voices playing chicken before one or the other gave up.  Nat won most of those rounds.  Sometimes with the help of the moderator.

Moderator Joe Vigil - KTVA 11 News - was ruthless when it came to time limits.  I realize that one has to do that to be fair to all the candidates, and that television news is often more about advertising, and thus entertainment, than news.  So time is of the essence. But letting the candidates talk longer when things get heated either leads to them explaining better or saying what they really think instead of their prepared scripts.

KTVA's Rhonda McBride during break

Rhonda McBride asked hard questions about conflicts between what candidates said (say about not bringing home earmarks) and Alaska needs (like the severe infrastructure problems in rural Alaska.)  Miller seemed to dismiss the lack of running water and toilets as a choice, citing his use of an outhouse when he was a magistrate in Tok.  

This gets to my problem with not giving the candidates more time.  With Vigil cutting them off, they could say something glib and not having to really address the issue.

When it was all over, I didn't think anything had really been resolved.   Should you take my gut reactions as worth anything?  Probably not.  But, my gut did tell me the first time I saw Sullivan live, that he would be running for higher office.  And I saw a lot of other folks being confirmed that legislative session and didn't make that prediction of anyone else. 

Joe Miller's website quotes a twitter comment he made at #akdebate:  

I'm not sure anyone won or lost, but Joe definitely had the audience - small as it was in the auditorium - on his side.

Debates are trickier for candidates these days.  It used to be that you could say one thing to one interest group and another to a different interest group.  But with everyone carrying at video camera in their phones and with Youtube available to post the video, candidates have to be more careful.  While the live audience at this debate appeared to be mostly Republicans - and Miller Republicans at that - this was also being carried live on television and on the web.  So candidates had to have answers that worked for all audiences.  Only Joe Miller didn't seem to care about sanitizing his message for the tv viewers.  Maybe that's why it seemed he was having the most fun.

*racist - applying characteristics of a few to a whole group of racial group.  In this case Miller is using the same sort of fear mongering the Republicans used to get Southern Democrats to move to the Republican party.  Another similarity to Nixon.

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