Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Debatable Debates

While I am an Obama supporter by default I must admit that last night's so-called debate was enough to make me turn off the sound at one point and watch video on the laptop from the Real News.Between Brokaw's incessant interruptions about the time limits and McCain's pre-senile ramblings there really wasn't much happenning. After last week's much anticipated VP debate I guess I wasn't surprised at the lack of content.I will say that Sarah Palin's robotic performance was enough to produce psychic vomit dripping from the ceiling. My favorite commentary comes from Michelle Goldberg of the Guardian:

" Palin, however, has single-handedly so lowered the standards both for female candidates and American political discourse that, with her newfound ability to speak in more-or-less full sentences, she is now deemed to have performed acceptably last night.

By any normal standard, including the ones applied to male presidential candidates of either party, she did not. Early on, she made the astonishing announcement that she had no intentions of actually answering the queries put to her. "I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also," she said.

And so she preceded, with an almost surreal disregard for the subjects she was supposed to be discussing, to unleash fusillades of scripted attack lines, platitudes, lies, gibberish and grating references to her own pseudo-folksy authenticity.

It was an appalling display. The only reason it was not widely described as such is that too many American pundits don't even try to judge the truth, wisdom or reasonableness of the political rhetoric they are paid to pronounce upon. Instead, they imagine themselves as interpreters of a mythical mass of "average Americans" who they both venerate and despise.

In pronouncing upon a debate, they don't try and determine whether a candidate's responses correspond to existing reality, or whether he or she is capable of talking about subjects such as the deregulation of the financial markets or the devolution of the war in Afghanistan. The criteria are far more vaporous. In this case, it was whether Palin could avoid utterly humiliating herself for 90 minutes, and whether urbane commentators would believe that she had connected to a public that they see as ignorant and sentimental. For the Alaska governor, mission accomplished.

There is indeed something mesmerising about Palin, with her manic beaming and fulsome confidence in her own charm. The force of her personality managed to slightly obscure the insulting emptiness of her answers last night. It's worth reading the transcript of the encounter, where it becomes clearer how bizarre much of what she said was. Here, for example, is how she responded to Biden's comments about how the middle class has been short-changed during the Bush administration, and how McCain will continue Bush's policies:

Say it ain't so, Joe, there you go again pointing backwards again. You preferenced [sic] your whole comment with the Bush administration. Now doggone it, let's look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future. You mentioned education, and I'm glad you did. I know education you are passionate about with your wife being a teacher for 30 years, and god bless her. Her reward is in heaven, right? ... My brother, who I think is the best schoolteacher in the year, and here's a shout-out to all those third graders at Gladys Wood Elementary School, you get extra credit for watching the debate.

Evidently, Palin's pre-debate handlers judged her incapable of speaking on a fairly wide range of subjects, and so instructed to her to simply disregard questions that did not invite memorised talking points or cutesy filibustering. They probably told her to play up her spunky average-ness, which she did to the point of shtick - and dishonesty. Asked what her achilles heel is - a question she either didn't understand or chose to ignore - she started in on how McCain chose her because of her "connection to the heartland of America. Being a mom, one very concerned about a son in the war, about a special needs child, about kids heading off to college, how are we going to pay those tuition bills?"

None of Palin's children, it should be noted, is heading off to college. Her son is on the way to Iraq, and her pregnant 17-year-old daughter is engaged to be married to a high-school dropout and self-described "fuckin' redneck". Palin is a woman who can't even tell the truth about the most quotidian and public details of her own life, never mind about matters of major public import. In her only vice-presidential debate, she was shallow, mendacious and phoney. What kind of maverick, after all, keeps harping on what a maverick she is? That her performance was considered anything but a farce doesn't show how high Palin has risen, but how low we all have sunk."

Why is American political discourse so dissconnected from the realities of empire collapse and meglomanic militarism? Part of the problem resides in the duopoly of the two-party system which has been a bi-partisan effort to bring us to the abyss we are currently peering into.No one questions the 600 billion plus military budget that supports the empire of bases that has characterized the national security state that most Americans call protecting the "freeworld".
An intergral part is Commission on Presidential Debates which since 1985 has constricted political discourse in the U.S. As reported by Fairness and Accuracy In Media:

"The origins of the Commission on Presidential Debates can be traced to 1985 discussions between the national chairs of the Democratic and Republican parties, Paul Kirk and Frank Fahrenkopf, which led to an agreement to cooperate in the production of "nationally televised joint appearances conducted between the presidential and vice-presidential nominees of the two major political parties…. It is our conclusion that future joint appearances should be principally and jointly sponsored and conducted by the Republican and Democratic Committees." (Joint Memorandum of Agreement on Presidential Candidate Joint Appearances, 11/26/85)

For an example of a real debate I would cite this recent exchange in the upcoming Canadian elections where there were actually five parties represented:

"Stephen Harper admitted Thursday that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was a mistake - one that Canadian troops would have been plunged into had he been prime minister in 2003.

The grudging admission came during the second televised leaders debate as the five leaders discussed the Canadian mission in Afghanistan.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe needled Harper about the embarrassing revelation that whole sections of a speech about the Iraq war, delivered by Harper as opposition leader in 2003, were lifted almost word for word from a speech delivered two days earlier by Australia's prime minister at the time, John Howard.

A Conservative speechwriter resigned Tuesday after taking the blame for plagiarizing Howard's speech.

Duceppe said the Afghan mission has proved longer and more dangerous than anticipated because U.S. President George W. Bush diverted American troops to Iraq.

"If the situation is so tough in Afghanistan, certainly a large part of that is because of the error made by George Bush by going in Iraq," he said to Harper.

"Do you realize today that you were making a huge error by supporting Bush and Australia ... and would you make the same decision today as you were proposing Canada to do in 2003?"

The prime minister initially tried to dodge the question.

"I've made it very clear Canada is not going to Iraq. Obviously you know the answer to that question," he said.

But Duceppe continued to badger him as Harper tried to steer the discussion back to Afghanistan: "This is not the question I asked. . . I want to hear it. Do you admit it was an error of George Bush and you made the same error?"

Harper finally answered: "It was absolutely an error. It's obviously clear the evaluation of weapons of mass destruction proved not to be correct. That's absolutely true and that's why we're not sending anybody to Iraq."

Green Leader Elizabeth May shot back: "We're only not sending anyone to Iraq because you weren't prime minister at the time."

Harper's admission was in stark contrast to the speech he gave in the House of Commons - much of it cribbed from Howard - on the first full day of the Iraq invasion in March 2003.

"Alliances are a two-way process," he said at the time.

"We should not leave it to the United States to do all the heavy lifting just because it is the world's only superpower."

Harper urged Canada to join Bush's "coalition of the willing" in Iraq, relying heavily on American assertions that Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction.

"As the possession of weapons of mass destruction spreads, the danger of such weapons coming into the hands of terrorist groups will multiply, particularly given in this case the shameless association of Iraq with rogue non-state organizations," he argued.

"That is the ultimate nightmare which the world must take decisive and effective steps to prevent. Possession of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons by terrorists would constitute a direct, undeniable and lethal threat to the world, including to Canada and its people."

Harper was not so verbose on Thursday.

He had little to say beyond his admission that he and Bush were mistaken. Asked about it after the debate, Harper immediately changed the subject."

One can only imagine what a presidential debate including Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney might add to the real debate which is curiously missing in this campaign. I would encourage interested readers to Open Debates which addresses the Debate debate.


Anonymous said...

the GOP wouldn't dare schedule any more unscripted air time for Palin, this would give people more time to realize that she's totally clueless... the prospect of her becoming the Commander in Chief is frightening

WINston smITh said...

I agree entirely about the frightening aspect but more unscripted air time would be extreemly entertaining to say the least.

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