We need a better way to practice politics than these so-called town-hall meetings. It doesn’t work any more.
If it’s a hostile crowd, the event becomes an ambush, with no useful information exchanged.
If it’s a friendly crowd, like last night in Randallstown, it’s just boring. Controversy is avoided, or at least sugar-coated, and the speaker, if all goes well, looks and sounds like a policy wonk.
That’s what I took away from Gov. Martin O’Malley’s campaign Webcast on Wednesday night. The tired “town-hall” format was poorly staged, and the technology didn’t work.
I don’t know if the technical difficulties that ruined Wednesday’ town hall were mostly in my computer, or in the Webcast. I wasn’t able to get the new O’Malley campaign Website (http://www.martinomalley.com) using my Firefox browser. I switched to the Safari browser, and the Webcast worked for a while in fits and starts. Maybe people using Internet Explorer had better luck.
The only part that worked consistently was the steady stream of Twitter comments from viewers. Most of the Twittering amounted to ignorant heckling, apparently organized by a handful of people who are not O’Malley admirers. For instance, someone named Augieboy repeated the same Tweet over and over: “Why are we positioning ourselves as a safe-haven state?” Making Twitter part of the Webcast was a gimmick that hopefully won’t be repeated.
Meanwhile, Gov. O’Malley stood alone on the floor in front of a school stage, while an unseen moderator alternated between reading submitted questions, and calling on supporters in the audience to ask live questions. There was no discussion, no follow-up questions, no give-and-take, just detailed monologue answers by the governor.
We’re used to a more relaxed but professional exchange of ideas, with at least three participants, as on the Sunday-morning talk shows. It would have been more interesting if Gov. O’Malley and others had been sitting comfortably around a table with coffee.
Where was Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown? Bob Ehrlich always included Michael Steele, and Barack Obama usually includes Joe Biden. It allows for some camaraderie, some discussion. And let me suggest a maximum of three journalists to ask professional questions. I suggest Ron Smith from WBAL-Radio, a political reporter from The Baltimore Sun and/or Washington Post, and Marc Steiner, formerly of WYPR, now at WEAA.
A Webcast like that, or a Podcast, would guarantee a more interesting exchange, present the candidates in a more favorable light, and might revitalize democracy in Maryland. – Bernie Hayden