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I Say Craney, You Say Senkaku--Political Islandhopping

War and peace, jobs and pay, life and death--oh, yes, and Craney and Senkaku, too.

In the Virginia Senate race, the really important issues include knowledge of arcane world islands. I'll take Island Hot Spots for $200, Alex.

Tonight's final debate between Sen. George Allen and Democratic challenger Jim Webb featured the latest in the candidates' fun game called Let's Stump the Opponent By Asking Him About Islands No One Has Ever Heard Of.

Why islands? Heck, why not.

This all started back in July, when, at the candidates' first debate, in the section of the contest in which the candidates get to ask each other questions, Allen tried to demonstrate that Webb doesn't really know Virginia (true enough; hardly anyone knows the state as well as Allen, whose command of Virginia geography is breathtaking) by asking Webb what he thought about Craney Island. The senator coyly gave no other details in his question.

Webb fell for the trick absolutely. Turns out Craney Island is a man-made island in the Hampton Roads area where feds want to build a new cargo terminal.

So tonight, Webb turned the tables on Allen. When it was the challenger's turn to ask a question, Webb inquired as to the senator's position on the Senkaku Islands and the dangerous international crisis brewing there.

Utterly clueless, Allen said, with just a glimmer of a smile, that he'd have to study the issue. The man hasn't been in the Senate for six years for nothing.

Webb gloated for a bit and revealed that the islands are involved in a dispute involving Taiwan, Japan and China. But the gloating ended when the moderator returned to Webb for his final 30 seconds on the issue, and Webb couldn't think of anything else to say. He actually passed, giving up speaking time, making him perhaps the first candidate for high office ever to voluntarily cede the chance to make a point against his opponent. He looked awful. He looked juvenile. He couldn't even come up with a stumper based in Virginia.

This was Allen's debate--the senator was smiling, confident and clear in his responses. Webb, by contrast, was halting, grim, stilted in language and gesture. This campaign has featured only rare moments of elevated debate; tonight's Island Stumper was another in a long series of lows.

But "It's Academic" teams across Virginia will be studying the Senkaku Islands tomorrow.

P.S.--The Webb campaign sent out a press release claiming victory in the debate, as all campaigns do no matter what happens. But get this: Here's the headline they slapped on their release--

Allen Goes Home in Defeat, Not Victory

Doesn't Know Where Senkaku Islands Are

I kid you not.

By Marc Fisher |  October 9, 2006; 9:55 PM ET
Previous: George Allen's Zen Ad: Can You Be Misquoted If You Were Never Quoted? | Next: The Ruckus at Gallaudet


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I disagree with your analysis of the debate. I thought tonight was yet another in a series of uninspired draws (I missed the first debate, which I hear favored Allen). As an undecided voter, I remain unswayed by either candidate. I agree that the "Island Stumper" was a silly political ploy; but I did not see or hear anything better from George Allen.

As a nothern Virginia voter, I am leaning toward Webb, because Allen has failed to do anything more than raise money for his party. Unlike John Warner, he has yet to put his constituency over his allegiance to George W. Bush. Moreover, he bashes the northern part of the state ("inside the Beltway") as part of his "good ole boy routine," while conveniently ignoring that he is a child of privilege (cowboy boots or not), who grew up in California.

Unfortuantely, all I know about Webb's political agenda is that he opposes Iraq. Pundits keep writing that Webb is the "perfect foil" for Allen; however, it seems that Allen's biggest foil is his mouth, not Jim Webb.

Posted by: Virginia Voter | October 9, 2006 11:51 PM

I still can't believe George Allen is pushing Bush's tax bills as his main attack on Webb. Even Allen's supporters must see that we've piled up the largest deficits in history. And every single independent analysis of the tax cuts has concluded that the richer a person is, the more they benefit. Do we really need to keep reducing the tax bills of the richest fraction of one percent at the top of the income and wealth lists, while the US Government falls deeper and deeper in the red? That's not even the fiscal policy of conservatives. So the only reason George Allen must think the tax cuts are still a selling point is that most people hear the words "tax cut" and automatically vote for whoever says them. I hope he's wrong.

By the way, the "Death Tax" that Allen says he's so strongly against only hits a tiny percentage of Americans at the top. How many of us will have $4 million to pass on? Under the Republican plan to get rid of it, millionaires can make millions more on appreciation of equity prices in their portfolio, then when they die, pass those stocks to their kids. Since the dead owner never paid tax on the appreciation, and the kids never pay tax on the inheritance, we have a bunch of rich Americans with windfall incomes that are completely untaxed. Even Bill Gates' father says its a boondoggle.

Posted by: Try and Try Again | October 10, 2006 6:33 AM

What discouraging campaigns these men have run. You have to turn it on its head: Not "may the better man win" but "may the worse man lose."

Where are the inspiring political heroes you can cheer for? All I see are candidtates you have to cheer against.

With the Republican promising one thing and delivering the other, and the Democrats running on nothing but opposition to George Bush, the best outcome is gridlock. Our political leaders are all followers.

Posted by: KK | October 10, 2006 7:00 AM

"5 F's and 12 D's." Why did I have to do research to remind myself that the bipartisan 9-11 Commission unanimously gave the White House and Republican-controlled Congress 5 F's and 12 D's in its December 2005 Final Report Card? If Webb and the Democrats were 1/10 as good as the Republicans in getting messages out, Webb would have been primed to continue his attack on Allen's inattention to a national security issue by using a catch-phrase like "5 F's and 12 D's" to launch into a recitation of some of the 9-11 Commission's findings on the Republican Congress's failure to prioritize homeland security over cutting taxes for the super-rich.

Webb could have used the 30 seconds he passed on during the debate to point out, for example, that Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress gave the richest 1% of Americans an $800 billion tax cut while just $130 million could have put radiation detectors capable of screening for nuclear weapons and dirty bombs at all U.S. ports. The 9-11 Commission gave the White House and Congress a D on progress on checked bag and cargo screening, noting that:
"Improvements here have not been made a priority by the Congress or the administration. ... The main impediment is inadequate funding."

Webb should perhaps be given some slack because he's not an experienced politician and is sleep-deprived trying to overcome Allen's name recognition and established popularity with Virginians. But we hear the same talking points over and over from the White House and Republicans. Why the Democratic leadership isn't more effective in providing such talking points to its candidates is beyond me. The Democrats have compiled plenty of material on homeland security that they could draw on, e.g.:

Posted by: Think Like Security Mom | October 10, 2006 7:00 AM

Back to stock options (since what, about 47 undecided voters watched that soporific debate on public TV?)

"Oct. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Stock options that Senator George Allen described as worthless were worth as much as $1.1 million at one point, according to a review of Senate disclosure forms and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

The records appear to contradict remarks he made to the Associated Press. ``I got paid in stock options which were worthless,'' AP quoted him as saying."

Further complicating Allen's public defense, Bloomberg reports:

"In the Senate, Allen opposed an accounting rule change that requires companies to list options as an expense on their financial reports. Allen co-sponsored a measure to block the rule change and in a hearing that year linked the awarding of stock options to increasing the security of U.S. troops in Iraq."

In other words, issuance of stock options would be harder for shareholders and the public to detect - making it impossible to analyze conflict of interest problems for non-disclosing public officials like Allen.

Posted by: PM | October 10, 2006 7:10 AM

Allen is a slick, experienced politician; Webb is not. Perhaps, candidates, such as Webb should take acting lessons so that they might be in a better position to convince voters that they are sincere, eager, and only want to do their best for the common citizen instead of a lobbyist. Candidates such as Webb should also spend time watching cable TV infomercials so they could learn the art of selling almost anything to the public. Slick, spinning, scripted politicans have brought this country to a low point in our history. Perhaps, it's time to change our perception of what makes an ideal candidate.

Posted by: Nancy from Annandale | October 10, 2006 9:40 AM

I also strongly disagree with your assessment of the debate, though not surprised since the WAPO didn't even run the story yesterday on Allen hiding his stock options in company's he's helped as a Senator and Governor (for 5 years)

Allen went over the time limit 8 times, came off as horribly scripted, untruthful, and straight out arrogant. The raised eyebrow and smirk reminded me of George W - who he votes with 97% of the time.

I don't want a slick liar as my Senator! I want a Smart, Classy Individual who can help change the dangerous course our country is on.


Posted by: Stacey | October 10, 2006 10:08 AM

You say "smiling, confident and clear" I say "condesending, and shallow." Allen's responses were canned sound bites while Webb tried to give within the short time allotted.

Allen says he wants a campaign on the issues and then continues to attack Webb. Last night he mentioned Hillary Clinton at least 4 times, as if the fact that both Webb and Clinton are Democrats is a criminal conspiracy.

Did you hear Webb explain why he opposed the Allen-endorsed Bush plan warrantlss wiretapping (we need Congressional or Court oversight).

If we want a government with integrity we have to stop evaluating candidates by beauty pagent rules and listen to the content of their words.

Posted by: Mark | October 10, 2006 1:51 PM

"This was Allen's debate--the senator was smiling, confident and clear in his responses" sez Marc.

Well, sure, he grins his grin and uses the same political squeak, squeak, squeak every time he gets in front of a camera. He has whole paragraphs memorized, and woe be to anyone who tries to stop him (read your time is up!) before he's done. Sometimes his response didn't even remotely fit the question asked.

Personally, I loved Webb's Senkaku Islands question......and Allen's dumb bunny response.

I will vote for James Webb, the candidate who does not look like he was carved from a lump of cream cheese.

Posted by: Vintage Lady | October 10, 2006 8:02 PM

I too think the Senkaku Islands question was weird. Sortof silly. But Allen's answers are boilerplate and don't seem to show a lot of independent thought. Quite often he just resorts to talking points. And I disagree with most of his talking points.

Posted by: Hillman | October 11, 2006 1:13 PM

The facts about the stock options are already in existence, webb-heads. You don't get to make them up to your benefit. Allen disclosed the options when they were worth $1.1 million, before he entered the Senate. Allen disclosed the stock options when they were worth $1,250, when he entered the Senate. The following year, and years after, when they were worthless, on the advice of the Senate Ethics Committee, he didn't re-disclose them. Now, perhaps he shouldn't have acted solely on the basis of counsel from the Senate organization detailed to govern exactly this kind of situation, and disclosed anyway, but ask yourself, what possible benefit does he gain by disclosing all other finances except these worthless stock options? And then ask yourself why do the webb-heads not want you to know all the facts? Perhaps because there's no story unless they make something up.

As for the nefarious "boosting" of the company the webb-heads allege he did as Senator, Allen's office sent a form letter asking the Army to respond to the company's question about a trademark infringement issue. When the company received a negative response, Allen did not follow up. Ask yourself- without the Webb echo chamber polluting the discussion- does this sound like undue influence, or a Senator doing their job?

Posted by: Webb of Deceit | October 12, 2006 9:47 AM

Why on earth should a US Senator waste even one minute of his or her time considering the Senkaku Islands? It is a total non-issue as regards US foreign policy.

If that's all that U.S. Senators have to worry about, then they must be running out of things to do.

Craney Island on the other hand, is at least relevant to a Virginia Senator.

To anyone who takes two seconds to look up these islands, Webb comes off looking like an idiot (and exceedingly juvenile) for having mentioned them.

Posted by: Katy | October 14, 2006 12:38 PM

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