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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Debating While Black

Mine probably weren’t the only eyebrows raised at the news that former Maryland Lieutenant Gov. Michael Steele is playing Barack Obama in John McCain’s preparations for his first presidential debate on Friday. Steele’s preeminent qualification seems to be that he’s African-American.
Now it’s true that MI Gov. Jennifer Granholm is playing a similar sparring-partner role for Joe Biden in his prep for debating Sarah Palin. But this is almost certainly attributable to the need to deal with the Lazio Factor–the famous 2000 precedent whereby Rick Lazio seemed to condescedingly bully Hillary Clinton in a classic gender-inflected dynamic.
It’s not exactly clear what the racial analogy to the Lazio Factor might be, unless Team McCain is concerned their candidate will slip up and address the relatively youthful Obama as “boy” or something.
In any event, if McCain just had to have an African-American stand-in, I’m with Jon Chait: why not Alan Keyes, who has himself debated Obama (not to mention McCain)?

One comment on “Debating While Black

  1. sporcupine on

    Steele is also tall, sharp, and a better speaker than McCain.
    He’s capable of putting in a rhyming flourish that echoes the African-American rhetorical tradition (“Drill, baby, drill”), and he’s capable of speaking in the somber tradition closer to, say, a white Presbyterian with a doctoral degree.
    All those things are also true of Obama, and they’re things McCain needs to be prepared for.
    I think it’s probably a pretty good choice.
    Keyes would be a disaster. He’d parody Obama and invite mockery. McCain’s instincts would be to call him a loony, and that would be terrible preparation for Obama’s calm steel.
    (Meanwhile, I wish Anne Richards or Molly Ivins could stand in for Palin. He’s got to accept that Palin can whip off great-sounding phrases. He’ll want to take each one of those phrases apart, but it would take him off message and seem to many like condescension. For almost the whole debate, he needs to aim substance at the audience and smiling respect at his opponent– and then land one or two hay-makers in the last 15 minutes. Can Granholm equip him for that?)


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