Last week the CNN/YouTube Republican debate dominated the political news cycle. Another debate, more questions were asked, and everyone should have been a little bit better for it having happened.
In a culture that values text, procedure, and image over results and action, it's no wonder we've had yet another debate where we learned nearly nothing. Sure, the Keith Kerr fall out afterwards was fun to watch, but did his question about Don't Ask Don't Tell actually do anything? Were the candidates presented with a question that made their position on the matter any more nuanced?
Well, in a word, no. In three words, not at all. We knew that they were all against removing DADT months ago, and no matter how the question is asked, they're not going to change their position. The only way that would happen is if they get elected to office and mysteriously forget what they said in the last couple dozen televised debates, but....
I'm not talking about just one question; it's a microcosm of a larger problem: this primary season is going on too god-damn long and no one knows what to do with it.
Take, as another example, the front page story from the Washington Post last Thursday, that described rumors that Obama is a "Muslim plant". Forgetting the fact that he's Christian, the front-page of one of the most reputable papers in the country was devoted, on the day after a major televised presidential debate, to internet rumors.
Someone has certainly stopped caring.
This primary season continues to drag on and on. I don't think I would have a problem with it being so long if it were actually interesting or if it actually developed. But we're pretty much in the same position that we were in after the 2006 mid-term elections: Hillary is still dropping Bill's name like there's no tomorrow, Barack is still giving pretty speeches about change and unity, John is still talking about the class divide, and everyone else is getting ignored. Has any of this really been worth it?
For me, the debate fatigue set in a long time ago. When the media, those people who have their finger on America's collective pulse, announced on Labor Day that primary season was beginning, I was already tired. But now that we've had yet another debate where we heard the same talking points that the candidates have worked on ad infinitum with their staff so as not to be surprised, or, more likely, so as not to surprise, piled on top of all the other debates where the same questions were asked with slightly different wording, I'm no longer tired, I'm becoming physically ill.
This season has found a way to highlight everything that I think is wrong with American politics and nothing that I think is right. First, there are the crazy candidate supporters. Many people that I know and love, smart people, reasonable people, good people, have been lost to their absolute allegiance to their candidate. No one can say anything bad about their favorite girl because she's perfect. And if she's not, then her fault is so very small in comparison to the massive suckiness of all the other candidates. And no fact is too disputable, no argument is too asinine to advance in favor of their candidate, and all those arguments simply must begin with the phrase "My candidate is the only candidate who will...."
Not every candidate supporter is like this, of course, but enough are to actually scare me. Do we know that these people are human and, therefore, fallible? Do we understand that a lot of what they say is just talk? Do we understand that circumstances might change and that getting attached to one candidate is just setting ourselves up for disappointment? Do these people understand how wrong a democratic system that values loyalty to a personality over nuanced and frank discussion of their politics and experience truly is? (Maybe I'm the only one of the people I'm talking with whose mother was raised in a dictatorship, so maybe I'm just a bit closer to where this could all end up.)
Second, the debates provide no new insight into the candidates. The substance of their answers is so utterly unimportant at this point that the only way to analyze the debates is to say that someone had a "good performance" or a "bad performance". It doesn't matter if they advance the proposition that we should have a nuclear war with Iran or tax credits for child health care, it's all about their mannerisms and speech, because that's all that's important when it comes to being president.
I know that part of the problem is just that the season started so early, and what are we really going to do with all of these presidential candidates running around that seems appropriate for a functioning democracy? We can't just let them fundraise quietly for a year, for crying out loud! We could, though, have deeper conversations with several of the candidates on fewer topics (actually, I'll give HRC credit for choosing a different format for their forum). Or maybe present hypotheticals and actually give these people a chance to explore them. Or discuss current events with them in interviews that aren't related directly to their campaigns. I'm not the political whiz here, I'm just throwing out ideas.
But lining them all up on stage like department store mannequins and asking them to explain how they're going to end the Iraq War, in light of the centuries-old Sunni/Shiite conflict, British and American colonialism, and Israeli/Arab tensions, keeping in mind the complexities of the Kurdish people's position in the the Iraqi parliament and possible Turkish and Iranian influence, in under 90 seconds, please, they're not going to have a chance to show the depth of their understanding next to the other candidates, and we're not going to have a chance to hear anything besides a rehearsed "I will significantly cut down troops" promise. But then, thank you for coming and we promise an even more in-depth and shocking debate next week! (More in-depth and shocking? How is that even possible!)
Third, this season highlights just how silly the media can be at times when it comes to democracy. Maybe it's a reflection on what we want to read and watch on TV, maybe the media's feeding the system, I'm not going to make pronouncements on that subject. That Obama "story" mentioned above, that some people are lying and saying that he's Muslim, was published months after those rumors were first started, mentioned on Fox News, thoroughly debunked, and we all had a good laugh at Fox News' expense. Just after a televised debate, and the day after this much more interesting, true, and timely story broke on Politico, we shouldn't be hearing the "Obama is Muslim" idiocy rehashed. But we are.
Another example is that Zogby Interactive poll last week that showed Hillary losing to all the Republican candidates, which was cited by over 200 media according to Google News. Never mind the fact that it was a webpoll, it's necessary to make a silly point!
And don't get me started on the John Edwards haircut "story". Don't even get me started!
I suppose this is all better than asking ad nauseum if America's ready for a Black or female president, but not by much. And it's not what we should be focused on when there are so many important issues out there, when these people's backgrounds could be thoroughly examined on substantive issues, and when their hyperbolic statements could be fact-checked. But that would all be expecting too much of media that are much more interested in reducing complex policies and problems down to soundbites and catchy titles.
I know, I know, I'm the primary Scrooge. When Michael Crawford was putting together Meet the Candidates Week (which I'm glad he did), it was suggested that I write up something about Mike Gravel since I mentioned a few months ago that I was a fan of his. I didn't do it mainly because I'm not as excited as I was by him, and I didn't want to get caught up in the primary season any more than I would otherwise.
In other words, I'm sitting this one out. I'm not picking a favorite candidate. I'm not going to debate who's better. I'll blog about queer-relevant events from this race, that's fine. I'm just refusing to participate in the competitive aspects, the comparison of the candidates, the horserace of it all as Hillary snipes Barack over a paper he wrote in kindergarten, or he says that he has more foreign policy experience because he lived abroad when he was 10. And the poll, poll, poll-ness of it all, ugh.
Stick a fork in it, as the kids say nowadays, have the primary elections, and let me know who I'm supporting. I'm done.