Parallel construction fails: We're still watching the videotape of last night's VP debate. An initial reaction:
It's often intriguing to watch a debate after you've heard the punditry. So far, about forty minutes in, the debate we're watching doesn't seem enormously like the debate we heard described.
In a world awash in punditry, often from people with little to say about a bunch of non-events, Excited Pundit Overstatement is a frequent problem. We may have heard some EPO concerning last night's debate.
That said, we were struck by one aspect of the moderator's first substantive questions. It involves a dog which didn't bark.
Elaine Quijano started with a softball-style question which let each hopeful discuss himself. She then produced her first real questions for Kaine and Pence. In order, here's what she said:
QUIJANO (10/4/16): Senator Kaine, on the campaign trail, you praised Secretary Clinton's character, including her commitment to public service, yet 60 percent of voters don't think she's trustworthy. Why do so many people distrust her? Is it because they have questions about her e-mails and the Clinton Foundation?American history isn't likely to change due to the oddness there. But as a bit of journalistic practice, the oddness there strikes us as odd.
QUIJANO: Governor Pence, let me ask you, you have said Donald Trump is, quote, "thoughtful, compassionate, and steady." Yet 67 percent of voters feel he is a risky choice, and 65 percent feel he does not have the right kind of temperament to be president. Why do so many Americans think Mr. Trump is simply too erratic?
Presumably, that pair of questions was intended to be fair-and-balanced. In theory, Quijano asked Kaine a challenging question about Candidate Clinton. In theory, she then asked Pence a parallel question about Candidate Trump.
That isn't exactly what happened. We were struck by the curious lack of parallel construction in those opening questions. Also, we thought of Matt Lauer.
Here's what we're talking about:
When Quijano asked Kaine about Candidate Clinton's standing with the public, she cited two specific factors which might explain the low regard in which she is held. "Is it because they have questions about her e-mails and the Clinton Foundation?" she specifically said.
Quijano named two punishing topics right in that opening question to Kaine. But when she asked Pence about the low regard in which Candidate Trump is held, she didn't mention any possible explanations.
It would have been easy enough to do so. ("Is it because of his frequent misstatements and self-contradictions? Is it because of his insulting comments about so many people?") But Quijano didn't cite any possible factors. Kaine was hit with two punishing topics, Pence heard none cited at all.
A person might think that Quijano balanced that off by citing two negative polling numbers for Trump, as opposed to just one for Clinton. But we were struck by the lack of parallel construction in what was essentially her first pair of questions.
It was similar to what Matt Lauer did at the Commander-in-Chief Forum. At the start of his interview with Candidate Clinton, Lauer directly suggested that her email procedures may have been "disqualifying" for her as a candidate.
In our view, Lauer showed poor judgment by inserting such an aggressive suggestion into that opening question (or into any question at all). That said, it was notable that he did nothing similar when he questioned Trump.
(Beyond that, the first audience question to Clinton was harshly accusatory. No such audience question was directed at Trump. We assume the questions were screened.)
So far, we've watched forty minutes of last night's debate. Kaine and Quijano both seemed confused, right off the bat, concerning Pence's right to speak for two minutes without being interrupted.
That confusion arose in the heat of battle, but those opening questions were prepared in advance. Quijano announced what Clinton's done wrong. Weirdly enough, when it came to Trump, she drew a total blank.