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Panel Nerds: Unconventional Politics

Who: Joe Klein, Margaret Hoover, Anthony Randazzo, moderated by Toure; Evan Bayh, Rick Lazio, moderated by Ben Smith
What:The Unconvention: A Soundbite-Free Evening of Political Talk From Left, Right and Center
Where: 92Y Tribeca
When: September 9, 2012
Thumbs: Up

Ben Smith hosted more than just a panel with some politicians; he was also the emcee for a night filled with standup, music, and improv comedy. The first hour was probably more familiar for Smith and for the politically-minded audience — two separate half hour panels focused on the election and the issues. In the second part of the night, a series of different performers — most notably Judah Friedlander — took the stage to give a lighter outlook on the campaigning.

Coming off of two intense weeks full of conventions and analysis, the timing for this event couldn’t have been more ideal. Joe Klein began by reminding the audience that the conventions were perhaps many Americans first exposure to Mitt Romney, and that the election could come down to how 2 to 4 percent of swing voters throw their support this season. However, Margaret Hoover believes that many Americans know Romney well enough by now, since he’s been running for president since 2006 or so. As the lone GOP voice on the panel, moderator Toure often turned to Hoover for the other side’s response when they lobbed assertions and questions at the Republican party.

Everyone agreed that Romney will have to perform well at the first debate if he hopes to keep the race close. Klein wondered whether Romney actually did himself a disservice during the primaries when he began taking “weird stances” that the conservative base imposed. Plus, Klein said, attacks that conservatives hurl at Obama that he hasn’t accomplished enough are easy to fend off once you sit down and make a list of all of Obama’s key achievements. Obama is just bad at communicating them, Klein said. They all agreed that the two candidates must shift to speaking more positively if either expects to sway swing voters going forward.

After the first panel, Smith took a seat and brought on Bayh and Lazio to give the politicians’ side to confronting Washington gridlock. They discussed the impending fiscal cliff and how the increased polarization between the parties is only hurting America. Bayh pointed to several politicians who suffered in the voting booth after they showed a willingness to work with members of the other party.

What They Said
“The best politician wins. Always.”
– Joe Klein explains why Obama is leading in the polls

“I think it’s less this year about who you want to have a beer with and more about who can turn things around.”
– Margaret Hoover sees the economy being the strongest factor at the polls in November

“I like the policy of obstruction if it will be stopping bad ideas.”
– Anthony Randazzo says that everything is good in moderation

“One of the problems in Washington is lack of respect for those of the opposing view.”
– Rick Lazio wants to see more collaboration across the aisle

“We need to forge a consensus rather than just jamming things down people’s throats.”
– Evan Bayh hopes to see pleasant conversation rule the day

What We Thought

  • Joe Klein seems to know everything. A veteran of nine other campaigns, he adds context to every position he takes. Whether it’s a historical context or a reminder of contemporary obstacles that Obama has faced, Klein delivers every point with sound rationale and evidence. It’s refreshing to find an opinionated person with facts to back up his claims.
  • Smith did a nice job getting out of the way and allowing his two guests to talk through the issues. Toure, on the other hand, participated as much as the others on his panel. Different moderators will bring different styles, but we’ve found it’s better to have the moderator’s role clearly defined as the facilitator, not just another outspoken panelist. Moreover, on these pressing topics, it was better to have someone like Smith move the conversation along when necessary and to supervise from a safe distance.
  • This event actually had a brief third panel composed of young people discussing the  student-loan crisis. After the first two, that one felt unnecessary. It’s a topic worth visiting again at another time though.

PANEL RULES
Some audience behavior seems to repeat itself panel after panel. We’ll be updating a running list of “PANEL RULES!” that will help ensure that you are not the dweeb of the Panel Nerds.

Panel Nerds don’t like…Missed Connections
This event was so jampacked with panels and comedy bits that there was simply no time for audience members to voice themselves. At one point, Smith indicated that he’d have time to field a couple of questions, but that window soon closed as the politicians filled it with wonky conversation. Some other voices would have done this night one better and would have provided another perspective on the key issues at play this election season.

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