2012 – The Second Presidential Debate

Politics is something that I tend to loathe to comment on in this space.  I have my political philosophy, and I suppose the intrepid readers do too – and I am sure it can be inferred from other posts in this space on more frivilous topics.  That being said, if I am going to be commenting on television, then it would seem like a bit of a dodge not to comment on the most crackling television program of the last week.  Yeah yeah yeah, I skipped writing after Debate #1, but that was dull as dishwater, the moderator put forth almost no effort, and essentially we were forced to choose between a boor and a corpse in terms of “who won”.  But anyway, some random thoughts to unpack – if you want some more horse racey sort of commentary you can find it in a lot of places, I’ll point to one of my old classmates, for a thoughtful take – as the stuff on TV commentariat largely is pretty useless.

  1. There is something eerily sexualized about the way that commentariat and writers discuss things like Presidential debates.  It’s not just that most of the commentary covering this stuff treats it like a sporting event, where lying and shaky command of the facts is seen as tools in the toolbox, but essentially the Beltway media is just looking for glorious, Russell Crowe like displays of machismo.  When Mitt Romney bullied Jim Lehrer – fresh out of his crypt for this glorious event – look at how weak kneed the Chris Matthews, Mark Halperin population was.  They wanted to feel his muscles basically, and indeed last night’s show the discussion came to Obama’s feats of strength.  I have no idea how a woman could ever win this office in my lifetime when the press and media (and I suppose their readers) are so entranced by locker room behavior.
  2. Indeed, one of Mitt Romney’s early salvos, hushing  the President with “You’ll get your chance in a moment.  I’m still speaking.” had a crystal clear parenthetical “boy” at the end of it.  It stood out in its racist stank in a way that really put us in the George Wallace wayback machine.  Obviously the media did not mention this – since we’ve solved racism in this country for good.
  3. The president let some good hanging curveballs go by still – indeed when the question was posed about the biggest misconception about you, I was secretly hoping he’d say “That I’m a Kenyan Muslim”.  But a lot of it lies in his own brand image, as some sort of political Shane who rode into town and saw these two parties lying there.  His team has always marketed him as something of a blank slate, who is not of a political party and whose personal awesomeness would win the day.  He was better than he was in the first debate, but whenever one watches him or listens to his oratory, it is hard to see why he bothers rolling out of bed to do this job.  There was the moment of genuine anger when his opponent tried to score political points with the Libya story which is still ongoing – but largely he was going through the motions, albeit much more deftly than two weeks ago.
  4. Of course the President also repeated a couple of debunked memes, pandering to deficit fetishists despite Social Security’s good condition and the data largely arguing against structural unemployment (that folks just need new training for these industries that can’t find good people).  Building on #3, it is fascinating that over 3 years his most impassioned speech was to advocate for a Grand Bargain where the safety net gets snipped in exchange for solving the deficit – that’s inspirational for you.
  5. It is fascinating how constipated actual political debate is.  I know a lot of people who put the socialist leftist moniker on the President – which clearly shows a near total ignorance of civics classes in middle school.  But what sort of issues are being discussed?  We had two candidates discussing coal, and drilling for oil, while totally ignoring climate change.  The parties agree on the drug war, and on the unfettered freedom to round up Muslims and put them in shipping crates in Guantanamo, and even on making a fetish of reducing the deficit regardless of how the economy’s actual output is doing (or the actual cost of money in 2012).  Last week, the vice presidential candidates were basically arguing over who gets to crush Iranian people economically more.  Hell, the last day of the DEMOCRATIC National Convention was more or less dedicated to ghoulishly spiking Osama Bin Laden’s head into the end zone.  I can see the argument that the country is more partisan than ever politically – though much of that whitewashes the rest of American history – but the notion that the two parties are really that different veers into George Carlin’s illusion of choice.
  6. When these debates are entertaining, it is clearly in spite of itself.  Yesterday, Gawker posted the Memorandum of Understanding governing these debates (which Romney summarily went back on early on) and what you see basically are folks who are desperate to avoid entertainment or any sort of spontaneity.  You see debate formats like the Jim Lehrer snoozer or the faux town hall meeting last night, and they are stage managed so precisely and the topics so limited (though one man blessedly brought up gun control which floored me) that perhaps just judging the manliness of each candidate is the only thing that you can use to grade the debate.  The Debate Commission’s job seems to be  to stamp out the edges of the area to debate basically.
  7. Salon’s Alex Pareene has some good ideas on what would make things better.  Of course this will never happen, since once again both parties are trying to discourage close listening of what is being said.
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