AUSTIN -- I rolled into the University of Texas' Recreational Sports Center a couple of hours before the Texas Democratic Debate between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama last night; also with me, several hundred of my closest media friends. I was assigned to Press Room Two, home of us lowly regional media nobodies. Next door in Press Room One, the national players were getting settled in. Both rooms looked like high-tech banquets, with hunched-over reporters sitting in long rows while devouring their computer screens as CNN blared on Panasonic televisions.
Just outside our havens of feigned objectivity, dangerous territory: the Spin Room, frightening not only because El Arroyo was catering, but because in a couple of hours, it would be where politicos and campaigners would fight to tell America what they’d just seen, lest they make decisions for themselves.
Arriving in droves, new reporters circled inside the press rooms, trying to find their assigned seats marked with placards arranged in no discernible pattern. One confused journalist is often amusing to watch; more than 10 simultaneously unable to solve a problem by hounding a PR flak or a public official is true entertainment.
In the countdown to the debate, while the nation watched Lou Dobbs and Co. put on their talking heads show, we had a live feed into the debate hall, where the UT band banged out “The Eyes of Texas,” just in case we’d forgotten our locale, the surprisingly crucial make-or-break primary state where voters hold the political fate of the Democratic candidates in their hands. Health care! Latinos! Hyperbole! Oh, my!
Before long, a red-jacketed Democratic Den Mother appeared in the debate hall to tell everyone to shut off their cell phones, eat their vegetables and don’t go into a room alone with Uncle Sal. She preemptively thanked the audience for being the “best EVAR.” Hope closed captioning got that spelling right.
I won’t burden you with a debate play-by-play; you can get your friends together and read the full transcript out loud yourselves. And if you’re already this far down into the post and you haven’t seen any debate clips or listened to your favorite pundit make up your mind for you, you’re probably just looking for the part where I make out with Maureen Dowd in the ladies’ bathroom, anyway. (“I never thought it could happen to me …”)
A few brief highlights: John King got stuck askin’ ‘bout that “controversial” border fence, y'all. Hasn’t real debate about that thing had gone the way of the lead-into-gold project we spent so much time on back in the day? Both candidates were all, “That shit is wack,” a phrase that’s really not a bad summary for just about everything the oft-agreeing senators said, from their comments on the current state of health care to the economy, immigration, etc.
Clinton finally whipped out her “FACE!” card when asked about her campaign’s contention that Obama’s a plagiarizer: “Lifting whole passages from someone else's speeches is not change you can believe in, it's change you can Xerox.” It takes the biggest of tools to come up with that kind of line, and Clinton should be congratulated for finding that big tool and getting that person on board with her campaign. No small task, certainly.
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Clinton was the exclusive inciter of audible emotion in the press room with both her Xerox line -- surprised calls of “Ooh!” and “Whoowee!” shot up from the reporters -- and her dig at dear old Kirk Watson, which drew a collective dismayed “Oooh!” Obama played it nice and sweet, as always, but was off his typically inspiring speaking game, peppering sentences with hesitant pauses. My choice for the winner? Clinton, who may have realized way too late in the campaign that she ought to show people she has a soul.
After the debate, I headed for the complete clusterfuck that is the Spin Room, where sign-wielding flaks were waiting to tell the herding media what their gentle masters thought of it all. Among the Ron Kirks and the Rafael Anchias: George Lopez!
I walked right by the comedian, barely recognizing him in this politically charged context. Soon, he and his pockmarks (ProActiv, George!) were swarmed by reporters anxious to find out what he had to say. I was about to join the ever-growing hive around Lopez to ask him what he thought of the candidates, but I couldn’t think of anyone who was likely to care, so I packed up and hoofed home. --Andrea Grimes