Sunday, August 09, 2015

Reflections on Last Thursday's Debate

Prior to the GOP Presidential Debates on August 6th, a prominent national institution sent out a note of encouragement for anyone and everyone to tune in.  “The first GOP debate is August 6th,” said the institution’s website, “and we already have a pretty good idea of what the Republican candidates will say ... so we made a bingo game! Order your GOP Debate Watch Party Pack and you'll receive: Four (4) ‘I survived the GOP Debates’ 16 oz plastic cups.  Four (4) ‘I survived the GOP Debates’ lapel stickers (please only wear these if you do survive!)   One 50-sheet bingo pad to play our official GOP Debate Bingo game with your friends.”

This is life in 21st Century America.   Politics has morphed into a branch of the entertainment industry.   In fact, it’s at the top of the entertainment heap, right up there with movies (big studio blockbusters as well as “Indie” films), TV dramas (don’t you just love binge watching them on Netflix after they’ve gone off the air?), various types of music (e.g., rock, folk, hip-hop), and non-political comedy.    Check out the list of Prime Time Emmy winners for the “Variety” show category.  Since 2003, that award has gone to a political comedy show every year.  Now, when we think politics, we think laughter, we think satire, we think ridicule.

It’s no wonder Donald Trump is doing so well in the polls.  Every time he mocks another politician, his ratings – I mean his poll numbers – go up.   True, he might have gone too far by blasting Megyn Kelly, but that’s only because he forgot the cardinal rule: if you’re a candidate, stick to mocking other politicians and leave the journalists alone. 

The writers of the website referenced above certainly understand that cardinal rule.   Their message was clear: the only way to enjoy the Republican Presidential Debate is to turn the event into a joke and treat the debaters like a bunch of buffoons.  You don’t so much watch the debate as “survive” it.  You don’t listen for ideas, you listen for words or phrases – so you can circle them on a bingo card. 
Last week, I was vacationing in Wisconsin, but I desperately wanted to watch the GOP Debate.  So I encouraged the group of friends with whom I was vacationing to come to a local restaurant where they could televise the debate and play Presidential Debate Bingo.  I didn’t even need a website to come up with the idea – my wife thought of it, and I immediately knew it was inspired.  Most folks can stomach coffee without sugar, but few can stomach politics these days without spice.  So we spiced up the debate with a bingo game, and everyone in attendance had a blast.

When it was all over, we realized that we had just watched a pretty darned good two-hour television show.  The pace was good, the moderators were in control, the debaters were respectful of the time constraints.  Plus, thanks to Trump, Chris Christie and Rand Paul, there was even just enough conflict to keep the proceedings lively.  So yes, score one for Fox News.  To be sure, very little was said about poverty and nothing at all was said about climate change, but at least there was enough substance to allow us to distinguish among the candidates.

Personally, I was very impressed with Governor Kasich of Ohio.  He seemed to be a true “compassionate conservative” and a fundamentally decent man.   He also has an impressive background, which includes major successes both as a Congressman and a Governor.  Sadly, for a huge swath of his Party, Kasich is merely a “RINO,” meaning “Republican in Name Only.”   But that just means that he belongs in the tradition of Republicans who controlled the Party in the 60s, 70s and early 80s, before right-wing talk radio took over and moved that Party’s needle way, way to the right.  I’ll be looking forward to additional debates to see just how willing Kasich is to tackle difficult issues.  If you think fundamental decency is a rare commodity in Presidential politics, courage is even rarer.

If I were Hillary Clinton, the last Republican I’d want to face in the general election is John Kasich.   He clearly could appeal to moderates.   The question, of course, is could he appeal to the GOP base?’s chief editor, Erick Erickson, has already announced that he would refuse to support Kasich, adding “Screw you John Kasich, and the pompous a** you rode in on.”   I guess that’s what you get for advocating such causes as Medicaid expansion and gun control, and then having the chutzpah to lead the Republican Party.  It’s not a surprise that of the ten candidates who were invited to the prime time debate, Kasich entered the event in last place.  Then again, after watching his fine performance on Thursday, even the Republican base is bound to take another look at the man.  That’s what debates are all about.

All in all, I’m really happy I tuned in to Thursday’s debate and so are my friends.  Perhaps it was the Bingo idea that got everyone enthusiastic about the event, but I think they all would have enjoyed it anyway even without the sugar or spice.  For me, the real question is what the folks at the Democratic National Committee felt about the evening.  They are the ones who own the website referenced at the top of this blogpost.  They are the ones who apparently believe that in a two-party system, we don’t need two respectable political parties – we can treat one of those parties exclusively with ridicule.

Perhaps the DNC operatives would prefer one-party rule.  Then, we all wouldn’t have to ridicule politicians anymore; we could all just ridicule the voters who show up at the ballot boxes thinking that their votes matter.   Thankfully, that’s not the case.  Votes still matter because we still have a choice of candidates.  We may not like our options – indeed, by the time the list of candidates in each Party is whittled down to one – we may hate the two remaining choices.  But a full-year before the Party Conventions, which is where we stand today, we’re typically presented with some half-decent candidates who are throwing their hats into the ring.   Thank God that these early debates allow us to see these candidates before the political operatives and fat-cat kingmakers drive them into oblivion.  

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