Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Final Debate

The final debate at Hofstra University last night was the best debate of the three presidential debates in this historic election. The candidates had spirited exchanges on a number of hot topics, not just the economy. William Ayers, Joe the Plumber from Ohio (a real person, unlike Joe Six-Pack), Lilly Ledbetter were all brought into the debate, as well as the candidate's negative campaigns and the highly emotional, controversial topic of abortion.
John McCain came out strong on the economy, which has proved to be his Achilles heel in these dark days of economic woe. He dominated the discussion on Joe the Plumber, who complained that Obama's tax plan would put his dream of owning his own business out of reach. His indignation on how Obama would dare raise taxes in times of financial turmoil seemed righteous and justified, and he criticized Obama's explanation of "spreading the wealth around." He put forth some good fiscal conservative arguments and even managed to put some distance between himself and the current president, saying, "I'm not George W. Bush," adding that if his opponent had wanted to run against him he should have run four years ago.
Still McCain unraveled his solid start in the debate on the topic of negative campaigning and did more damage discussing William Ayers. Barack Obama did not flinch when McCain expressed his obvious hurt and outrage that Rep. John Lewis would compare him with George Wallace, Alabama's segregationist governor in the 1960s. Obama described the McCain and Palin rallies last week at which discussions of Ayers by the Republican candidates led to shouts of, "Terrorist!" and "Kill him!" Obama spoke of these scenes, in which McCain and Palin did not beg for calm initially, with coolness and detachment--some would call his performance flat--while McCain blustered and demanded that Obama repudiate Lewis for his remarks. Obama did not rise to the bait, by the way, although he did state that Lewis had spoken on his own without endorsement from the campaign. Obama had the courage to call McCain on the atmosphere of some Republican rallies, while McCain behaved a bit like a middle school queen bee who's been accused of bullying other girls with vicious gossip. You could almost hear the they're-picking-on-me tone in his voice.
Things got worse for McCain when the subject of William Ayers came up. Obama patiently explained that William Ayers, now a professor of education in Chicago, was part of a domestic terrorist group called Weather Underground back in the sixties, when Barack was eight years old, and that he, Obama, had publically denounced Ayers's actions from those days. Obama spoke about how he and Ayers had served together on a board of the Woods Fund of Chicago and named other board members. Yet somehow, that wasn't enough for McCain, who suggested that Obama was withholding information on his connection to Ayers and that Obama began his political career in Ayers's living room. McCain had the final word on Ayers, attempting to plant doubt in the minds of viewers, while Obama spoke of focusing on the issues that matter most to Americans.
Obama took the high road again, when asked if the thought that Sarah Palin was qualified to be president if the need should arise. He adroitly side-stepped this question, as skilled politicians do, and if he was suppressing an uncharitable desire to blast Palin for her lack of experience it didn't show. McCain, on the other hand, still struggled to hide his anger and comtempt for Obama. Those who watched CNN's broadcast of the debate had the benefit of watching the split screen that showed the candidates reactions to their opponent's answers. McCain gave a stronger performance, having managed to find his stride in his presentation style, but his reaction shots did not help his cause. Obama just smiled and shook his head whenever McCain made a statement that he didn't agree with.
The post debate analysts seem to agree that this final debate was not a game changer, though McCain did a better job than at the two previous debates. The post debate polls seemed to bear this out. Presidential debates give candidates the opportunity to answer honestly the tough questions posed by the moderators and sometimes the voters. Candidates, however, are rarely candid while running a campaign, and spend much of their time answering around the tough questions and repeating large chunks of narrative from their stump speeches. If I had a dollar for every time I've heard Obama and Biden mention the failed policies of the past four years, well, it wouldn't help my nest egg much but I might be able to take my family out to dinner. Still the debates give the opportunity for viewers and voter to see the candidates in action. Perhaps it doesn't do for us to choose our leaders based on which one avoids the question most eloquently, but at least we can make the most our experience watching Obama and McCain create their spin on the fly when we vote on November 4.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Pea Green Soup

Tuesday I made split pea soup for dinner. Another recipe from Skinny Bitch in the Kitch. It was shockingly easy. I had to do some prep work, chopping celery and carrots and sorting the split peas. (I despise chopping onions and always use the dried minced onion you can get in the spice rack at the grocery store for everyday meals.) Still, the prep work seemed fairly easy and once I put most of the ingredients together in the stock pot, I had time to clean up the kitchen and make biscuits. It was just as good as the stir-fry I threw together on Sunday night.
What was the secret to making a good dinner with minimal effort?
1. I know enough about cooking to make reasonable substitutions and shortcuts. Fresh veggies may be best, but the Thai frozen vegetables worked well in the tofu stir-fry. Amy’s California veggie burgers made a decent substitute for vegan bacon in the Split Pea Soup. And, of course, I always use my dried minced onions.
2. Cooking does require some time and effort in the kitchen. I might as well resign myself that I can’t cook the way I knit and crochet, which is whenever the mood hits me. We all get hungry a lot more often that I feel like cooking, so I might as well get my behind in the kitchen and have fun with it.
Last night I served the leftover split pea soup with beer bread, which I made with quadruple the baking soda because I was chatting on the phone while cooking. It turned out well enough anyway. No one complained much or gagged, so I’d say it was a success.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Why Barack Won the Second Debate

Last night’s debate in Nashville did not offer anything enlightening regarding the candidates and their positions. As frustrated Ohio focus group members found, neither candidate offered any specific answers to the pointed questions that were posed. To be honest, it’s time we gave that idea up, anyway. The candidates gave us all they ever planned on giving us and all they plan to give us next Wednesday—an eloquent recital of their positions on the issues. Politician don’t go out on a limb when courting voters. They may get all “mavericky” when it comes to the hard work of creating and passing laws, but when they’re trying to earn or keep their jobs, they aren’t going to take any risks. If we want answers, we need to look at their records.
So who won? Since no one gets points for content, we are reduced to evaluating style. John McCain, who had promised to take his gloves off when facing his opponent, opted instead to try for affability. He said “my friends” often that I wanted to count it as a crutch phrase as we do in Toastmasters. He seemed so bitter and angry in Oxford, Mississippi, so offended that he had to even face this half-African politician that he couldn’t even look him in the eye. McCain seemed to be steeling his resentment as he pasted on a smile and used first names in a valiant attempt at friendliness. His war injuries made him move around like a stiff old man, but that quality would be endearing in another candidate. Perhaps it is endearing to conservatives who agree with him on the issues. However, the likable pose seemed forced. While Sarah Palin succeeded in her efforts to appear folksy and down to earth, McCain seemed like an old guard politician pandering for votes.
Barack Obama was the same as he always is—calm and reassuring. He is comfortable in his role, he in knowledgeable on the issues, and it showed. He uttered his share of “ums” and “uhs,” backtracked to rephrase sentences and skillfully dodged questions, but he gave a good performance. And his performance was a bit better than John McCain’s.
Why is it so clear that Obama won this debate? It was not the exchange that took place during the ninety minutes of trading stump speeches. Instead, it was what happened while the commentators and experts sat around picking everything apart. McCain and his wife left, while Barack and Michelle stayed and spoke with the group who had been chosen to ask the tough questions. The few shots we got of them, without audio, working the room, taking the time to listen and respond were all we needed. It was classic Obama. He may want to be president, but he cares about his country and its citizens. This simple act captured the true affection Obama has for American voters more effectively than any of McCain’s repeated “my friends.”
The point of a presidential debate is to present oneself as the best candidate to lead the country, not to win an argument. If the point of this debate was to show an affinity for the voting public, Barack Obama, by spending a little extra time with a small group of voters, may have done a lot more to reach a much large group.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Fun with Tofu

Yesterday I cooked with tofu for the first time. The whole experience was sort of miraculous, which had very little to do with the tofu, I'm sure. I was in my usual dilemma--it's Sunday evening, almost six o'clock, and I haven't started dinner. My husband mentioned this, and I avoided the question. I didn't want to disappoint him. I just wanted to start cooking without saying anything at all about it, but he cornered me and accused me of pulling a Sarah Palin by deftly changing the subject to avoid giving him a direct answer. Finally I confessed. I was planning to make a stir-fry.
I got started half an hour later. I had chosen a recipe from my new cookbook, Skinny Bitch in the Kitch (more on Skinny Bitch and its hilarious authors in another post). Normal people study a recipe, make sure they have the ingredients and go out and buy what they don't have, then carefully prepare the dish following the instructions, much as a Hogwarts student would do in Snape's Potions class. Me, I look at recipes as sort of general guidelines, which is why my family cringes when I tell them I'm making Special Surprise for dinner.
The recipe was for Tofu and Steamed Veggies with Brown Rice, or something like that. Forget the brown rice. I already had white rice prepare so all I had to do was heat it up. Fresh veggies? Do I look like I have time for fresh veggies? I had a bag of organic Thai vegetables from Whole Foods Market, so I just used that. I sliced up the tofu, tossed it into a colander, and shouted, "Drain!" at it, which meant that it rendered a good deal of water in the cooking. I was smart enough to saute it first before adding the vegetables, and, as an added last minute inspiration, I grabbed a handful of peanut my husband had brought back from his road trip. The sauce was easy enough--tahini, soy sauce, and safflower oil (because we are out of sesame oil). One hour later, bam! Dinner on the table.
My husband liked it well enough to take for lunch--high praise from him. My oldest daughter avoided the sauce and the tofu and grudgingly ate the vegetables, having demolished the rice instantly. My youngest daughter, who I normally count on to eat everything, found the sauce bitter. (So did I, and I plan to add at least a tablespoon of brown sugar to it next time.) She complained and frowned until my husband had me set a timer for her to finish her food or else. She tried eating one grain of rice at a time, and after we put a stop to that, finished by cramming generous forkful into her mouth. She let the sauce dribble down her chin, gagged, and was banished to the bathroom to spit out the offending mouthful. It so nice to have my cooking appreciated.
So the miraculous meal ended with my youngest daughter not throwing up and everyone getting to bed on time.

Friday, October 03, 2008

VP Debate--Does It Make a Difference?

Last night's debate in St. Louis between vice presidential candidates Senator Joe Biden of Delaware and Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska offered some mild surprises, but in the end will not much alter the political landscape of this historic election. Palin did extremely well, bringing to mind the dyanamic speaker who electrified the Republican convention and giving conservatives a vice presidential candidate of which they can be...well, at least not embarrassed. Likely this was largely due to her thorough preparation and the fact that neither moderator Gwen Ifill nor Biden skewered her. Palin did not ramble incoherently through the myriad talking points on which she has been obviously coached. She did not stare blankly into the camera while question after question rolled over like a truck as she did in her diasterous interview with Katie Couric. She did a great deal of sidestepping, dragging many questions back to her topic of comfort--energy. Of course, Ifill gently chastized both candidates early in the debate for neglecting to answer her question. Palin gave a credible performance with her characteristic folksy charm and managed not to do any further damage to herself or John McCain's campaign.
Joe Biden, on the other hand, gave an excellent performance himself. He did not bluster or blunder as he has been known to do, but his skillful answers to many of the questions demonstrated his superior knowledge on both foreign and domestic issues. Biden did not treat his opponent gently as he sought to highlight the differences between the two presidential candidates and link McCain to the "failed policies of the last eight years," but he did not flatten her as he might have. At one point during the exchange he pointed out bluntly that Palin had failed to answer a question, but he kept things friendly as Palin twinkled her way through the evening.
Palin did succeed in her debate where McCain failed--in demonstrating charm and likability while delivering her answers. If McCain, as he claims, is not Mr. Congeniality, then his vice presidential pick is the yang to his yin. Is it enough, however, to win over undecided and independent voters? Sarah Palin might do well to hope that her ticket loses in November. She could use the time to solidify her knowledge base and experience and add those assets to her considerable charsima. In time, she could be a formidable opponent to any Democratic candidate seeking office. However, she becomes vice president, she will have ample opportunity to demonstrate that she is in way over her head.