To the People

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or TO THE PEOPLE.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

On Tour

It was cold and rainy last night in Wilton, Connecticut, the roads a slick black mirror of headlights and fallen leaves, a good night for staying in and eating curry and drinking Guinness.

But no! Last night was also the seventh and final debate featuring Democrat Diane Farrell, Libertarian Phil Maymin, and Republican Chris Shays. Farrell and Shays will continue on from here, battling each other until November 7 and beyond, into perpetuity, like a one-legged sea captain and a white whale. But they'll do it without Maymin.

After three straight nights, it all blurs together. There were more video cameras in the enormous Wilton High School auditorium than at any of the others — nine — and for the first time Shays had abandoned his man-of-the-people shirtsleeves look by wearing his suit jacket.

And after six of these (I skipped the second), I can say at least one of my crazy predictions has come true: Maymin became intrinsic to the scene. Farrell and Shays directed most of their replies and rebuttals toward each other, but nevertheless by the end they no longer ignored Maymin as they did in the first debate, and as they ignored Green Party candidate Richard Duffee on Sunday and Monday. They can't. Maymin scored points off them and so they had to respond.

Example: Last night the moderator asked a question, directed to Maymin, about the suspension of habeas corpus. He replied that it bothered him because he — Phil Maymin — could be detained and tortured under the bill due to his support of an exit timeline in Iraq, a strategy determined by congress to be against the interests of the nation. He again brought up last Wednesday's debate where Shays said Abu Ghraib was not torture. Maymin immediately corrected him but Farrell didn't. Days later, Shays switched his story. Maymin took both to task: Shays for what he said, Farrell for what she didn't.

"Phil, I'd like to pay you a compliment," said Farrell when her turn came. The reason she didn't say it was torture was because Maymin had already done such an eloquent job. That's why she was silent. Sure. It's so reasonable.

And so Maymin had spanked them both: Shays directly, but Farrell indirectly through her own passiveness in letting Maymin hit Shays for her.

Maymin's well-worn tactic was to show how similar Shays and Farrell were to each other and how different he was from them. Take North Korea. Shays and Farrell both want six-party talks. "What do you think they want to talk about?" asked Maymin. "They want money. Talks mean money." While the Republicans and the Democrats argue about the best way to drag North Korea to the table, Maymin wants all troops home, stating that our presence prevents reunification. (Everything I've read suggests that while South Korea wants cordial and peaceful relations, they have no serious intention of unifying with a medieval backwater like North Korea and thereby picking up the tab for decades of collapse — but whatever. The result is the same: our extraction from a fight in which we have no stake. It was Japan's destabilization of the continent during the 1930s and China's "volunteers" during the Korean War that created this situation. Let them deal with it.)

So Maymin would club them with their similarity, which of course both were eager to disprove. They had to reply, directly or otherwise, making the debates a true three-way discourse. Will this translate into November votes? Probably not. One LP member I spoke to last night had been doing some informal exit polling. He said most were already firmly in the camps of the other two; the rest didn't know what the hell Maymin was talking about half the time. Still, the literature and yard signs moved well, if only to decorate teenagers' bedrooms.

Maymin's humor was the other pole planted in the sterile Antarctica of these debates. "They're like an old married couple," he said of his opponents in his closing statement last night, getting a laugh. If they were both in congress together, "they would cosponsor mountains of legislation taking away our rights." More laughter. "You vote for me, you're guaranteed to get smaller government — or your vote back." Laughter and applause. Thank you and goodnight!

Farrell cracks a good gag now and again but it's not her thing; and when Shays tries to be funny, he channels Yiddish and makes detrimental headlines. Libertarianism is innately hilarious and Maymin knows it. It's an ultimately optimistic philosophy — you believe people are good and can take care of themselves — but to be libertarian is to be surrounded by those who only see the worst in mankind. Humor helps the libertarian to cope.

Links to video of the debates at Maymin's website.