CT-04: First Debate Goes To Farrell (D) By Castration

Thanks to dailyKos diarist dvogel001 whose diary alerted me to the first CT-04 debate between Republican incumbent Chris Shays and Democratic challenger Diane Farrell, which aired on CSPAN yesterday.

For a primer on the race, check out my first CT-04 diary.

The debate over the flip...

Cutting to the chase, let me just say that Diane Farrell kicked Chris Shays's ass. Sure, I'm predisposed to liking her over my former Congressman, but she was just really an impressive debater by any measure, managing to more than hold her own against the 19-year veteran of the House. She went after him unflinchingly, mostly on the war in Iraq, although she always managed to do it with a light touch. What's more, she completely controlled the debate and left viewers with one overriding impression: as a Congressman, Christopher Shays is impotent.

Let me start by saying that Farrell has hit hard on Shays's self-proclaimed expertise on Iraq. As Shays himself likes to brag, he has visited Iraq 14 times, "more than any other member." To hear him tell it, this record is an argument for his re-election, that he has a certain knowledge base on the subject and a rapport with local leaders. But Farrell has successfully turned it into a problem for the Congressman.

To see how she's used his many trips to frame his support of the war, watch her latest ad HERE.

Smartly, Farrell used the debate to step up her attack on Shays by advancing a new frame, all the while without really seeming to attack him. All she did was reinforce what he already brags about, hoist him on his own petard if you will.

We'll start with Shays. In response to a question about the true nature of the violence in Iraq as reported by Bob Woodward in State of Denial and why he didn't tell the people of Connecticut, Chris began by boasting about his trips to Iraq:

I've been to Iraq 14 times. I go every 3 or 4 months. In the first 12 months, there were huge mistakes. We disbanded the military, border patrol, we didn't guard the armaments. We allowed the looting.

OK, he acknowledges the mistakes, but reverts to his classic "Both Ways" Shays mindset:

I felt we were making progress. We asked the Iraqis to step forward and asked them to elect a transitional government, they did...create a constitutional convention, they did...ratify that constitution, they did. I saw 18 months of progress and I will stick by that as long as I live.

Not a bad start, but then he was asked a question about his 14th visit and what changed that made him suddenly talk about a timeline for withdrawal.

Shays responded:

I will be handing out this booklet to everyone here. I write a report of observations and recommendations after every visit. And they're all right here.

He held up a booklet in his right hand. This is where things got interesting.

Instead of taking him on on his stance on Iraq per se, which would inevitably lead to an argument involving nuance and muddy waters, which have never worked for Democrats, she attacked him for doing exactly what he just proudly boasted of doing: sending his precious reports. But instead of calling them reports, Farrell used a much less offical (read: strong) word for them.

He talks about letters he has sent to the White House. And in fact I have the most recent letter he sent to the White House. Where it's a letter, it's not an action taken from Congress, it's not a mandate to the president from Congress. And there were two things that I found troubling in this letter to the president, one of any number of letters he's sent to the president. And I would submit it hasn't changed the course of events as we see where are today in Iraq.

Chris Shays as presidential pen pal. But Farrell turned it into something much worse.

He makes recommendations that we should encourage Iraqi leaders to set a timeline. A recommendation is not an action, it's a passive statement...I have called for the Secretary of Defense's resignation. I have also suggested the Congress has the power to call a vote of no confidence to send a very clear signal to the president that stay the course, the status quo is not acceptable. And what Congressman Shays said most recently in his letter and I quote: "serious consideration should be given to bringing in a new team to lead the department of defense." That's not an action item. Too passive for me.

OK, at this point, you could tell Shays saw what was going on because he started to speak more forcefully, trying to get his balls back. But in so doing, he fell right into Farrell's trap and began reading off a list of his recommendations. "I urged..."... "I recommended..."

Farrell immediately jumped on it

You're reading from letters you sent to the White House. Did you ever get a response back?

Damn. But that wasn't all.

Did we ever see an improvement as a consequence? And when you talk about the fact that we still see such a high rate of US military dead and sectarian violence taking place in Iraq today it's hard to believe that those comments that you sent to the White House have in any way changed  the president's position.

She then turned Chris's fondness for his correspondence with the White House into perhaps the most compelling argument for her election to Congress (all the while channelling Stoller...)

Only one person can call our troops home. And that's the president of the United States. And a suggestive letter from a member of Congress who purports to be the expert in Congress hasn't moved the president to do so. And the reason the president hasn't felt any pressure to do so is because the Congress has effectively abrogated its responsibility for checks and balances. It has not asked the hard questions. It has not held the administration to account. And so a letter suggesting that maybe Mr. Rumsfeld should be replaced isn't moving the ball forward, isn't bringing our troops home, isn't bringing an end to the violence.

So what does Shays say in response? You're not going to believe it. I couldn't believe it myself. Let the hoisting begin...

My opponent is dead wrong. In this hand-out you'll get you'll see on my letter I wrote in April 2005, I talked about...

Hahahaha. Now even he's using her frame. It doesn't matter what you say after that ellipsis, Congressman, all that matters is that you just reinforced Farrell's concept of you as an impotent pen pal of the president.

Oh but he kept on digging.

My letters just don't go to the White House. They go to the Vice President, they go to the National Security Director, they go to the State Department, they go to the Defense Department, they go to Iraqi leaders.

Does he not get it? Farrell does.

But has it changed anything? That's the question.


I'll end with Farrell's closing remarks. She offered three questions that she urges voters to ask themselves when deciding how to vote on November 7:

Where Chris agrees with president Bush and the Republican leadership, like the war in Iraq and our fiscal policies, has it been good for our country?

Where Chris has disagreed with president Bush and the Republican leadership, has it made a difference? Stem cell research, women's privacy rights, even our own national security.

Can we afford another 2 years of an unchecked Bush administration?

It was hard to believe there was anyone watching her in that debate yesterday who would have answered Yes to any of those questions.

Give Diane some love HERE.

Tags: Chris Shays, CT-04, Diane Farrell (all tags)


1 Comment

Re: CT-04: First Debate Goes To Farrell (D)

That was my first look at Farrell and I thought she was very impressive. She clearly annoyed Shays to the point he was trying to respond immediately and take time away from the weird libertarian candidate, who would launch irrelevant tangents from time to time.

Farrell's ending with the three points was so effective she let it stand without using up anything close to her alloted time. That impressed me because it's so unlike all the national debates where candidates inevitably try to squeeze one thing after another to the closing statement and it ends up rambling.

But do they really need 11 debates? I'm sure that's what they said but I'm astonished at the number, especially with only a month left.

by jagakid 2006-10-05 09:12PM | 0 recs


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