Patrick Healy and Eugene Mirman on the Liberal Media ‘Conspiracy’ and Why It’s Strange That the Wall Street Meltdown Has Swung Polls

Sorry, but only John McClane can stop him now. Photo: Courtesy New York Times

Every day until November 4, a series of writers and thinkers will discuss the election over instant messenger for nymag.com. Today, New York Times political reporter Patrick Healy and comedian Eugene Mirman discuss forgetting the things Sarah Palin named her children after, what Americans really want, and Bette Midler for V.P.

E.M.: Okay: What is your favorite branch of government? Mine is Congress!

P.H.: Congress is a pretty interesting beast, no? We rarely have the presidential nominees of both parties come from the Senate. In a year when there is such unhappiness with Washington … Does that strike you as weird?

E.M.: It does seem weird. I also like how people keep saying that Sarah Palin has more executive experience than all three candidates.

P.H.: Though, apparently, she isn't capable of running a major American corporation…

E.M.: Well, running a company is complicated. It's not as important to be likable or a ballbuster. Though I would love to have a maverick reformer running HP.

P.H.: "Maverick reformer" — who comes up with these titles?!?

E.M.: The same person who named Xanax, I assume.

P.H.: I want THAT job!

E.M.: You can start a branding/naming company. That's what makes America great. Along with all our individual rights.

P.H.: That's where the real money is.

E.M.: I think Obama picking Biden is very responsible. But it's just not as exciting. He should have picked Bette Midler. Then it would have stolen the headlines.

I can barely remember what Palin named all her children after anymore. And two weeks ago I could tell you that Bristol was a bay in Alaska or something.

P.H.: Ha-ha, information overload! How is Obama looking to you these days?

E.M.: I like Obama a lot. But I've always liked him because he seemed to me like a pragmatist. I know that he is liberal, but I think he is in a very responsible way. Whereas McCain has had several image makeovers. I can guess at what kind of president he would be, but I'm not really sure.

P.H.: Did you read his books? After his convention speech in 2004, his books were my main way into his thinking.

E.M.: I haven't read the books by either McCain or Obama. I try not to read, because then I would have actionable information. I've read lots of articles and such, and followed it reasonably closely. But I'm just a citizen and comedian, so I think I'm about as informed as my place in society demands.

P.H.: An understandable policy.

I wonder if Borders reports our book purchases to the Department of Homeland Security … I should know these things, as a reporter!

E.M.: One way to find out what Borders reports is to buy lots of books and magazines about making bombs and building rocket ships and see what happens.

P.H.: Good call … er, maybe not.

What do you think of the media coverage of the race right now? And/or the coverage by the NYT, where I work?

E.M.: I like the New York Times a lot, but I'm a liberal Jew. I'm part of whatever conspiracy you're part of. I think a lot of the non-newspaper coverage seems to be about where the election stands. But I think that's because people like to follow the horse race of it.

P.H.: Yeah, we try to stay away from that, in part because it's cotton-candy coverage and in part because it's so hard to "declare" where the race is with any precision.

E.M.: What do you think of the coverage?

P.H.: I was struck by our story this morning on the new NYT poll of the race. While it was mostly focused on issues, it also had horse-race numbers — which basically were the same as before the conventions. All the sound and fury of the last three weeks, and the horse-race numbers are largely unchanged!

E.M.: It's amazing to me that the economy having trouble in the last week has changed the polls, as if the economy was awesome three weeks ago.

P.H.: I'd imagine people would be super anxious about losing their houses, more than the Dow Jones numbers tanking.

E.M.: You'd think. Maybe if the super wealthy are in trouble, it makes everyone nervous. Where will the money trickle down from when China owns everything? I think I just wrote a rhetorical poem!

Have you been traveling a lot to battleground states in covering the election? What sorts of people have you spoken to and what's on their minds?

P.H.: I was in Virginia yesterday, which is still considered a battleground by the Obama campaign. A lot of voters were talking about high interest rates for college loans; the rising costs of nursing-home care for their elderly relatives; the price of gas. One woman said she and her husband were doing just fine on their two incomes five years ago, but today they are living paycheck to paycheck.

I heard NOTHING about Iraq. Or abortion rights, gay rights, guns, etc.

"It's the economy, stupid."

E.M.: Yes. People need food before they prevent gay marriage. It takes energy.

P.H.: That makes sense to me.