Thursday, October 09, 2008

Missed Opportunities

If it has escaped the viewership that all the bally-who of the 2008 political debates is little more than theater, then the viewership is not paying attention. It is the ultimate in "reality" television: it is highly scripted; it is not very insightful; and though McCain and Obama won't "hook up" at the end of this season, one of them will get "voted off the island." At least this go around it is more interesting than 2004, when dull and duller took to the podiums and bored a nation into a mandate (of less than 51%).

Listening to the political debates is just as frustrating as watching the debates. More so, actually. Palin's voice is grating, and her performance lacks the charisma without winks and her funny smirks. Obama's even temper still resonates, but his articulation is less so ("uhm" is louder on the radio). At least hearing McCain stumble over the Iranian puppet's name (Ahmadinejad) and correcting himself, only to never get it right, is amusing, no mater what the medium.

What is also heard is the nonsense. These are not debates. Debates are articulate discussions back and forth over policy and ideas. Fortunately these two guys do not have to stand before the audience with a random assignment of a position. They have positions and they should argue them, develop them, enumerate benefits and set backs, and allow us to truly evaluate the complexity of an issue. Instead, they interpret the opposition's position in an over-simplified sound byte, and never articulately clarify their own position. They get asked questions by moderators and begin their answers by rebutting the assertion of their opponents' answer to the previous question. This is not debate. This is masturbation, and the end result is just as messy.

Here are some things I'd really like to hear debated:
  • What does a tax cut for 95% of Americans really mean? Is there a figure or percentage on how much I can guesstimate my taxes will decline? Can you reassure me how that money will be used, or how the cut will be offset elsewhere?
  • What does victory in Iraq mean, when we don't have the profit of land, or riches, or material goods to be gained in the end, and when the competing factions of the (now) civil war hate our guts and want us to leave?
  • What is clean coal technology (really) and why should we pursue that as a positive alternative? How does it differ from dirty coal?
  • Why is nuclear technology so controversial? What makes it bad? What makes it good?
  • Why is socialism such a dirty word when our friends in Scandinavia are socialists? Why does the label of socialism make "universal health care" sound so unappealing? How is universal health care socialism when a $700 billion economic bail out package proposed by a Republican Treasury Secretary not labeled socialism (as hastily), and why is it good?

I have my own positions on these issues, and if I were to voice them I'd bust out my flip flop and step on a pop top. But, I am not running. My position has no direct influence on the outcome of this election. Their opinions do, and I would like to hear them voice their opinions directly, and not in two minutes.

This means the style of the debate has to change. Ten minutes on an issue does little. What if the debate was broken up into half hour segments, where the candidates could get into the meat of a single issue. While the candidates prep for the second question, these half hour segments could be interspersed by relevant sitcom reruns. Discussing Foreign Policy? M*A*S*H. Discussing technology? Max Headroom. Discussing a woman's right to choose? Maude or Murphy Brown.

While the content of these theatrical escapades the last three weeks have been in desperate need of an editor to omit the redundancies and to pencil in some serious content, what has kept the whole thing lively is the use of language and most importantly the style of delivery.

Language: this can best be summarized as, "Drink if you hear Maverick, Change, or My Friends." On their own, the words repeated throughout the debates could quickly become insignificant icons, like D-List celebrities. Hope is hopeless. Change is uniform. Maverick is just a "closeted gay actor" hoping to make Top Gun.

Delivery keeps the language afloat. Listening to McCain's quiet emphasis becomes hair-raising. These issues must be very serious and frightening and I can believe from the tone of his voice that he "can do it and will do it." Listening to Obama's cadence is spiritually uplifting and makes hope and change seem tenable, that the promise of America is still alive, and that together we can make a difference.

But, now they're just words: ear wash affected by a 24 hour news cycle that replays the sound byte of a stump speech that is the same in Gary, Indiana or Hope, Arkansas. It hardly matters that for either candidate there is no longer any there there - it's been squeezed out and sucked dry. Their causes seem to have little, if any, remaining affect. (pun!) Thankfully there is less than a month to go and it will all be over... until the recount.

I just hope, if I'm listening to the last round of debates next week, that I don't miss a moment similar to the town hall between Bush and Gore in 2000, when Bush said something that insulted Gore and provoked Gore to stand from his chair. In the awkward silence heard on the radio, the TV audience watched Bush shoot Gore a smirk, as if to say, "what're ya' gonna' do? Hit me on television?" Maybe Gore should have - his approval rating might have gone through the roof.

2 comments:

Jim said...

Our muddled government system leaves people to speculate and guess and the so-called debates only illustrate the point succinctly. How can voters be expected to know anything if all they ever hear is stump speeches and ad hominen attacks against the opponent? This campaign plays out like a tiff between high school rivals.

Due to the state of presidential politics, we are left with a vote for ideology based on all the information we can comb from the internet and other sources.

Is that ideology going to work? We really have no idea. I think religious people call it faith.

Pave the Whales said...

I think the debates this year have been more boring than anything - and not particularly informative.

I can answer your first question, though:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2008/06/09/ST2008060900950.html