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Conservatism, Debate Reform, and FedEx

October 19, 2007

Guest speaker Rick Tyler spoke with Dr. Dana Walker’s Dissident Media class at American University on Oct. 19, 2007.

Some background info…

Rick Tyler currently serves as the press spokesman for former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.

He is a conservative political strategist, and senior partner at Chesapeake Associates, a professional campaign consulting firm.

Tyler was the Executive Director for the Maine Republican Party for five years before moving to the nation’s capitol, where he is now the Director of Media Relations for Gingrich Communications, according to his website.

Let the live blogging begin.

“It’s not often that a member of Newt Gingrich’s staff gets willingly invited to talk to a college class,” Tyler said, greeting a class of almost 30 laptop-armed students.

He took no time getting started. Asking the class how we decide who to vote for, he received various answers from the class. “We go online,” someone said. “Television,” said another. Tyler explained in his day there were only four major networks, compared to today’s common choice of 500 available satellite channels.

Tyler said there is probably less than 10% of the entire American population paying attention to the presidential election. Keep in mind this blog is coming from a university where nearly every student has a political opinion.

Obviously this statistic doesn’t apply to anyone in the room, Tyler said.

He compared the percentage of his life that’s dedicated to politics compared to that of “normal people.” Ninety percent of his life, he claimed, was encompassed by all things political.

“You’re weird!” Tyler said to the students who claimed they watched Sunday morning talk shows, rather than sleep, watch football, or play golf like “normal people.” He was trying to reiterate that most of the nation doesn’t care most of the time about politicians or political issues.

On the topic of television, Tyler recalled the first-ever televised presidential debate – Nixon v. Kennedy. This debate took place where they now do the Meet the Press with Tim Russert, he said.

“What do you think is wrong with today’s current political debate?” Tyler asked the class.

“It’s too rigid and lifeless…They just give the answers they know the voters want to hear,” replied a student.

“You think people can see through that?” Tyler asked, “I do too.”

Tyler criticized the current debate structure, describing it as unproductive and “ridiculous.”

“What’s your answer on Iraq? Thirty seconds.” The buzzer rings faster than you can say “Uh… well…where do I begin?”

What’s his solution to the rehearsed, rapid-fire, sound byte-laden debates today?

He mentioned that his boss, Newt Gingrich, proposed that two candidates get on stage and talk it out in an anything-goes style forum. If they’re from opposing political parties—great. He also briefly mentioned Newt’s NNN plan, which is discussed further down in this post.

“I’d love to see bipartisan debates. If you put a bunch of republican/democratic candidates in a room full of republican/democratic voters they sound like CrAzY right-/left-wing fanatics!!” he said.

On the subject of registered independent voters, Tyler claimed they “have no voice.” He said they have to wait for the “crazy people” to make up their minds between candidates, before an independent voter can have his or her own choice.

As a registered independent, I don’t react well to this statement. Tyler spoke in front of a class that is structured to force students to have their own voice. The term “dissident,” as in Dissident Media, in itself reflects a minority that do not associate with the mainstream press.

To say someone doesn’t have a voice because they don’t associate with one of the two major parties? I don’t know about that. I understood what he meant, that we need to restructure the debate system to give undecided voters a better opportunity to decide between candidates, but he could’ve worded that more eloquently.

Tyler also spoke of newsworthiness. “Does anyone remember what the media was covering on September 11, 2001?” After a few hints, no one in the audience could recall that this was the summer Chandra Levy went missing. That was to be expected (it was over six years ago).

Newsworthiness is highly influenced by a struggle for ratings, Tyler said, “Why be afraid of freedom? I’d like to see no limits.”

If you’re a candidate, you have the weakest position to define your campaign, Tyler stated.

Tyler then advocated for transparency in government. Right now, campaigns are financed by “bundlers,” organizations with names like “Voters for a Better America.” Does anyone actually know where this money is coming from with a name like that?

“I love the five dollar voter.” Big donators are just buying influence, which they get through access.

Tyler asked a number of questions about our lives in a technological age, including ones on floppy disks, records, and rotary phones. Doing so provided a comparison between today’s world and the one of only a couple decades ago. Not that this topic needed addressing to a class where nearly every student had a laptop, complete with wireless Internet access, in front of him or her.

This was taken almost directly from Newt Gingrich’s speech at the National Press Club, which is available at the AU library for any AU students reading this. Tyler exemplified the ridiculousness of the fact that FedEx can track about 20 million packages a day, to six-sigma accuracy. Whereas the Federal government can’t track 11 million illegal aliens? Newt Gingrich’s suggested solution: send each illegal alien a package through FedEx or UPS. If that doesn’t get you laughing, check your pulse.

Gingrich calls his debate reform proposal the “Nine Nineties at Nine” plan. Namely, nine candidates speak for ninety minutes every Sunday for nine weeks before the election.

According to Tyler, this plan would allow the candidates to talk about a range of issues for longer periods of time. The debate topics would be chosen by the candidates themselves. This brings us to the question of how do the candidates choose which topics they should discuss?

“Dan Rather essentially got fired by a blogger! Think about that,” Tyler said.

Tyler maintained that the chance a citizen has today of bringing an issue to the attention of the Speaker of the House is much greater, mostly through online blogging, than it was when Gingrich was Speaker. Now, by means of the Internet, voters have more control over which issues get the most attention.

Then the floor opened to questions, of which I include only one.

“What has caused this degenerative debate structure?” one student asked.

Tyler’s answers were money, the financing of campaigns, and the competitive nature of the news media, which has focused people on trivia.

“I think the media has done a terrible job at articulating what people actually get,” Tyler claimed after he explained that every voter only wants to know what he or she will get by electing a candidate.

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