Yesterday, I mentioned that I would attend Jim Lehrer’s talk about his new book - the title of which came from an interview with former President George H. W. Bush, who called the debates “tension city” - at the Texas Book Festival. I promised pictures and a review, so while I have a couple of hours (well maybe one since I bought Fifa 12 last night and want to play it) before I go drink some beers with some friends, let me tell you how it was.
We got in line at 9:45am, and it was a good thing we did or we would not have been sitting on the House floor, but in the gallery. As you can see from the pictures of above, it was a full house for this event, and the line to get in stretched from the House chamber around the rotunda to the Senate chamber. Mr Lehrer was great. He mentioned that he had covered the Legislature briefly as a reporter for the Dallas Morning News, and while he was covering the Texas Legislature, he was advised, “When you cover the legislature, think of yourself as a drama critic.” That advice still seems pretty valid.
Mr Lehrer’s book is about the history of Presidential debates, and as a frequent moderator of those debates, he is in a good position to tell us a lot about how they have gone. As a contributor the history of Presidential debates, he began first with the Bush-Dukakis debate in 1988. He mentioned that the moderator’s influence over the debates has increased as the debates have become less and less formal (when compared to the first televised debate in 1960). In his opinion, that influence is not for the purpose of introducing new issues, but rather to make sure the candidates fully explain the positions they have taken over the course of the campaign, because the debates help us to take the measure of each candidate. Speaking further on the purpose of debates, Mr Lehrer noted that debates are beneficial because they require the candidates to take a position rather than fudge their way through (this is arguable given that candidates generally try to avoid actually answering questions, but debates can be used for this purpose if you have a strong moderator), and primary candidates help to weed out. Asked by one audience member what he thought the future of debates would be, Mr Lehrer said he believed we would have more and more debates with increasing variations in how those debates are conducted.
Overall, it was great, and if my own testament is not enough, my wife, who is hardly a political junkie, also enjoyed it. The insights he has to offer, as well as the tales from the various debates, were very interesting. And if you’re wondering, I did not purchase Mr Lehrer’s book, but I did purchase a book: Lone Star Law - A Legal History of Texas.