BOSTON -- Last night George W. Bush and John Kerry stood in front of America and professed their faith in God Almighty. And, I have to say, now that I know I don't have to sit through another one of these trite, not-so-vaguely insulting spectacles, I'm a believer, too. Praise Him who has delivered me from tired soundbites and bland platitudes.
The only thing more galling than the drivel trickling out of the candidates' mouths was how gleefully serious the media coverage was. A Modesto Bee columnist actually called the debates "enormously informative, even riveting," and on MSNBC Tim Russert gushed, "Since the beginning of time people have been drawn to the town square to listen to those who want to lead us. It's inspiring."
Despite having nothing but cave paintings to go on, I can't help but feel an actual debate between folks from "the beginning of time" would have been more "riveting" than the Bush-Kerry debates. At least then we would have gotten down to some basic alpha male skills: You know, starting fires, winning club fights, evolving. That would be more useful to me than watching two, rich spoiled brats, who have never been denied a single thing they wanted, argue airily about who hates poverty more when neither of them understands the first thing about being poor. They're just babbling on, like Howard Dean talking about his good pal Jesus (The Son of God, not the Son of Emilio). You think the folks in the trailer parks are taking either of these guys seriously? Think again.
While we're at it, can we please stop romanticizing the middle class as victims of circumstance thoughtfully weighing each candidate to see who will save them from the big, bad world? They know they don't have it as bad as everyone tells them they do, and they also know that not a whole hell of a lot will change for them whoever is elected. The course for disaster has already been set. This, the "domestic debate," seemed to boil down to, "Do you want a welfare state or do you want a welfare state?" A fiscally sane policy is in all our best interests, and clearly neither candidate intends to pursue such a policy. One of these guys will win; the rest of us will lose. Don't believe it? Go poll your neighbors and try and find a single person who thinks they have a decent choice in this election.
THE MEDIA LOVE THIS idea of regular Americans living lives of quiet desperation, watching the news intently to see if salvation is at hand. Tom Brokaw was on MSNBC last night explaining, "the Brokaw rule," which essentially states that it takes the lovable schleps out on Mainstreet U.S.A. a while to figure out what they think of the debates. "Voters like to chew these debates over," Brokaw said, adding that over the next couple days voters would "compare notes with friends in living rooms or barrooms or wherever they gather" and come to a final conclusion. Moderator Bob Schieffer told a reporter earlier in the day, "People are gathering around their TV sets like they do for Super Bowl parties, and I'm telling you, I think that is great."
Has Schieffer been to a Super Bowl party recently? Has Brokaw been to a barroom? Personally I don't drink, and I've never watched the Super Bowl. I have a rule against having any fun, which many of my friends choose not to follow. But I can tell you this: Whether in the dingiest dive or the most upscale bar in town, nobody is comparing notes on these debates. You can take that to the bank. Ordinary people are not stupid enough to waste their free time figuring out the deeper meaning of these debates. Only reporters and political junkies are that stupid. (Yes, that includes me. After two years following this sideshow, I'll be lucky to be able to feed myself and sign my name after November 3.)
A more pertinent question may be: How dumb does Brokaw, and the mainstream media at large, think working class America is? I know Brokaw thinks he's paying them all a compliment by attributing this intense deliberation to them. But does he honestly believe it takes the average American a few days to sort through Kerry statements like, "We're a country with a great, unbelievable Constitution"? Or, "Frankly, I think we have a lot more loving of our neighbor to do in this country"? (Perhaps this last was an attempt to channel Bill Clinton.) Are the unwashed masses struggling to figure out if Kerry's time as a Catholic altar boy combined with his recent blessing by a Native American tribe makes him a safer bet than the Protestant Bush? I don't think so.
AND DOES ANYONE BELIEVE that American workers concerned about outsourcing (be it statistically right or wrong) had to sit around considering Bush's direct offer, "Here's some help for you to go to a community college"? I guarantee there were no unemployed steelworkers last night comparing notes, toasting each other on their new community college careers. The average American probably didn't have to expend any deep thought on Bush's contention that temporary worker's cards and fast track citizenship were not de facto amnesty (again, right or wrong) or on his National Guard comments, for that matter, either. "The people I talked to their spirits were high. They didn't view their service as a back-door draft. They viewed their service as an opportunity to serve their country." As a beat reporter during the run-up to war, I watched hundreds of these Guardsman pack up and leave on 12 and 14 month tours, and I never ran across a single one whose "spirits were high." It's a huge sacrifice. Do you think just maybe, Mr. President, they were putting a good face on things because…well, because they were standing there with the President?
Equivocations might be slightly confusing, but they are not complicated. The debate was what it was, although to prove their own worth the media and campaign consultants will try and make it out to be something more. After all, if it wasn't complicated, they wouldn't have to spend the next week explaining what happened to the rest of us. And if they weren't explaining something to us, they wouldn't have high paying jobs or get invited to any fancy parties. So, they all agree. This is "riveting." It's "inspiring." It's a damn intellectual Super Bowl. Just let us stay important. Please, please, please.
But what am I complaining about? The debates are over. The election creeps up on us. And with every fiber of their body and soul America's elite are trying to convince us that somewhere in this white noise there is a symphony. But it really is just white noise. I think it's time to turn the television off and go to bed.
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