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Wednesday, October 03, 2012

A Debate in the Land of the Deaf

The debate, like the electoral college, is an outmoded institution dating back to another time when candidates for political office were capable of expressing ideas that could not be compressed into a misleading five word slogan. 

The modern political debate is not a test of ideas, but of candidates. HD cameras and screens make it possible for us to see every wince and grimace, and to measure how slowly a candidate responds. The debate is not won by intelligence, but by a combination of populist empathy and low zingers. Those zingers are usually all we remember from past debates because the age of the public and politician that could participate in the marathon Lincoln Douglas debates is long over and everyone knows it.

The debates are rarely about a public interested in weighing and measuring ideas, but a reality show where the candidate who has one bad moment becomes fodder for the late night jokes of the next day. And if the candidates and the public are sub-par, the moderators are even worse appearing only to promote one candidate and one agenda.

It's not that we don't have a culture of ideas because the public is stupid, though a key section of the electorate certainly wouldn't qualify to vote under any poll test, but because our politics are stupid. Our politics are relentlessly short term, our policies extend to the next month and our awareness barely lasts that long.

The Lincoln Douglas debates appealed to a country that thought long term, that measured politicians the way that investors measure a prospectus. Our current debates appeal to a country where people get incoherently frustrated when their signal drops and who don't watch TV anymore because it's easier to catch the highlights tomorrow. These are the types of people who will accept the robbing of their retirement accounts so the government can go on making them feel good about themselves.

The deficit has reached a catastrophic number, social security has been running a deficit since 2010 and we're slicing the military to pieces to pay for foreign aid to Afghanistan. None of this should be stomached by an electorate capable of doing the math, but much of the electorate can't do the math and a bigger piece of it doesn't want to.

Obama achieved a clean break with the reality-based politics of the past by just making things up all the time, claims, laws and budgets. What he figured out is what most politicians have suspected but never dared act on, that a sizable percent of the public can tell apart individual lies, but are unable to do so when everything that politician says is a complete lie.

By every measure and standard, he has failed in all his commitments. The economy is a disaster, the war in Afghanistan is toast, the jobs aren't coming, the growth isn't here and Al Qaeda is surging in North Africa. Past politicians would have struggled, made promises and assured the country that they would do better. Such dishonest honesty is not for Obama. The Prince of Chicago doesn't concede that there are any problems and the media corps gathers around to back him up with clamorous fact checks and stories that have nothing to do with the real world.

How do you debate a compulsive liar while trying to convince voters who already tuned out during the introductory remarks and are planning to wait and see what the media and SNL tells them are the best parts of the debate? It's a challenge and it's also the new politics where your goal is to convince unfit voters who can't figure out how to get a Voter ID that you are fit for the job.

Among the unfit voters are a sizable percent of those who do not understand the issues or care about the issues. All they want to do is vote for the candidate that everyone else is voting for. But they are dwarfed by special interest voters who understand only those issues immediately relevant to them. They don't care about the national interest, about the national economy or national security, what they want to know are the immediate benefits that will come to them one way or another.

The world could end tomorrow and they would take it as a personal slight, rather than a global tragedy. They have been trained to have a chip on one shoulder and a hand thrust out from the other.  They don't want to hear anything about America, they want to hear only about themselves. They will pay attention only far enough to determine which politician is pandering hardest to them. And they will almost always vote leftward, not because the left represents their interests, but because their egos never let them explore their interests past the pandering.

Any political campaign today is short circuited by group interests. Like a broken marriage the whole thing shamelessly dissolves into a custody battle over idiot voters with both embittered parents promising the brat that they will buy him more stuff so long as he denounces the other one. They lie of course, but the brat never learns that no matter how many times they promise him a 4x4 and leave him with a matchbox car and a huge bill.

And so this brings us to Campaign 2012 with Daddy Romney trying to be non-threatening and Mommy Obama screaming that he's a selfish bastard who will never buy them all the right toys. Ideas swiftly give way to sentimentality with pain-feeling empathy sessions and more hard luck tales than a convention of inspirational speakers could gin up. Everyone quotes numbers and those numbers just become more counters in an unreal online debate where one side just makes things up and the other side tries to show that it's operating in a completely unreal universe.

The debate, like most reality show showdowns, will come down to editing room shenanigans and the pre-existing narrative that the producers are determined to push regardless of the results. The viewers who have yet to decide are not there for answers, they are there to see who has the best catchphrases and who flinches or says something dumb. They are there to be entertained.

The perverse thing about the internet is that not only are people not better informed than they were in 1858, but they actually know much less than their great-great-grandparents did. And that isn't about to change. What new media has done is helped create a stalemate, but it hasn't broken the perversion that is modern journalism, all it has done is made it uneasy and kept it from claiming all the mental territory that it has attempted to occupy. But it has done this at a cost of generating more noise to drown out the signal. To beat the media, it has become like the media, and the media has become like it. In five years there will hardly be any difference between them as they tumble into a volcano with a death grip around each other's pageviews.

So we bring on the debate between Obama, the media and Romney. Obama and the media will discourse on hope, dreams and racism. Romney will occasionally try to mention the economy. The public, which despite seventy trillion news articles that describe Romney lagging in the polls, will nod along, but that portion of it which is both capable of voting and chewing gum at the same time, and isn't dependent on the government dollar, will quietly continue to shift their support to him.

Obama and Romney will mention manufacturing, the progress that women have made, Israel, their wives, their children, the troops overseas, the economic recovery and their hopes for the future. Mostly they will be enacting a ritual, at the end of which the media will declare Obama the winner and the swing voters will remain vaguely undecided. A few people will still remember when the ritual had substance, when conventions were as heavily contested as ideas, and candidates expressed ideas that weren't narrowly targeted to be inoffensive and win over wavering voters. Millions more will tune in to next week's Saturday Night Live to find out what they should think about the debate.

22 comments:

Ex-Dissident said...

I wish it were Newt on that stage.

Empress Trudy said...

Well I just watched the whole thing and Romney took him to the woodshed. Even Chris Matthews said so.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

Sure. But it was mostly on attitude.

Rondo said...

I agree with LA

On the economy, I think that voters who are concerned about the economy will get the definite impression that Romney will get the economy moving again, and the even stronger impression that Obama will not, and that these perceptions will certainly help Romney.

On Obamacare, Romney’s standard critique of it—it will hurt the economy, it involves too many regulations—and his continuing failure to attack it as a tyrannical expansion of government and bureaucratic power (as seen, e.g., in the birth control mandate), suggests that he will have no real zeal to repeal it. If he had such zeal, wouldn’t he have attacked it as the revolutionary, anti-American measure that it is, and not just for its inefficiency?

Mr ED said...

This is one of the few worthy comments on the presidential debates I have read. The rest of the media for the most part is of the "who won the horse race" variety, usually based on their personal political preferences. This is anything but that, and I really appreciate the perspective.

My take

The culture of a society - or perhaps the lack of it - is the best indicator of the substance of any society. The deeply ingrained corruption and perpetual aggrievement of Is-lameic societies preclude any real modernization or healthy change, so any efforts at democratization in those societies inevitably reflect the perversity of the underlying society as is the case in the "Arab Spring" countries. So it is with every society including our own. The huge economic successes of the western countries, which is founded in very painful lessons learned during earlier, more primitive eras, evaporates when the underlying lessons and principals are no longer held as worthy and necessary. This is the main objective of the Libfilth, to destroy the existing culture, morals and norms and replace them with simple-minded triablism, perpetual aggrievement and unthinking, remorseless fanaticism.

The frenzied actions of the Libfilth to upend and destroy western culture - the very foundation of our success and standard of living - has now devolved into a very frontal assault on that culture. The Libfilth "studies" like "whitness" studies and dismissive, denigrating phrases like "dead white men" are all designed to destroy the underlying culture and replace it with something much, much worse. Likewise the Libfilth infotainment machine busies itself with inculcating the population with ever smaller tribal allegiences and aggrievements which, as one might expect, are best sorted out by those-who-know-best-in-all-things Libfilth who must take power and keep it forever because it is in our own best interests.

Adam Greenfield said...

even though Romney clearly won the debate last night, no one will change their minds over it. Those supporting Obama will right it off as just one bad performance. They won't realize that he didn't mention a lot of what the pundits wanted him to is actually because he knows they are Bull not because he didn't perform well or missed opportunities.

When Al Sharpton shows clear disapontment in Obama's performance, you know it was bad. And it won't get better. We were all aware of Obama without a Teleprompter. And in a debate there are no teleprompters.

Anonymous said...

You summed up the vast, significant minority of the American public in your final sentence: "Millions more will tune in to next week's Saturday Night Live to find out what they should think about the debate. "
I am appalled at how so very many look to their neighbors to tell them how to feel, what to think, what is right and what is wrong ! This whole scenario is out of the pages of "Atlas Shrugged", and we are seeing that whole battleground being waged in our Nation at this time, and HAS been especially since the days of Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter.

Bob Miller said...

Sultan Knish,

It appears that your predictions of what would happen during this event largely missed the mark. Own up to that. As for the aftermath, stay tuned, you could be suprised again.

james wilson said...

"The perverse thing about the internet is that not only are people not better informed than they were in 1858, but they actually know much less than their great-great-grandparents did."

One has nothing to do with the other. The greatness of the internet is in the education of a few thousand better angels through their own interaction (like you) who in turn provide a far better understanding to a few million interested souls. Those understandings are far, far better than what existed thirty years ago.

All societies are eventually a reflection of their intellectuals. That is the source of our disaster and the contest by which we will advance, if that contest is not in fact over.

Even were conservatives to find themselves with a landslide victory in November they will have no ambition other than to re-float Leviathan as Reagan did, a feat so daunting in itself that we do not stop to think it brought us two Bushes, a Clinton, and Obama.

Anonymous said...

Daniel; What you say is likely true. Yet this debate was important for the following reasons. First; Obama looked worn and seemed unprepaired. Second; He had difficulty defending his policies.
Third; Romney seemed energized and in command of the topics. And finally and most important, Fourth; He came across as someone capable of being president. The liberal goons of the MSM have claimed Romney was not up to the job. Last night changed that and most of the MSM have admitted it.

Anonymous said...

Romney gives us hope in very dark time .But a large portion of the population doesn't comprehend how dire our future is looking ,and the rest could care less.

Obama made me laugh with his "i will hire 100,000 new teachers". He could hire 2 million and children will still grow up ignorant and self involved .
The education system is an utter failure. Single parenthood has irreparably damaged society.Teachers are too busy liking students on FB,having sex with them and faking test results to teach their liberal view of America to kids.

The legal system is a cash for innocence business .

And the more government worms it's way into every program and process,the worse everything gets.

Obama has next to nothing to run on.He counts on his skin color,the complacent MSM and entitlement bought votes to carry him.

Romney can bring us some relief but our problems are enormous and we need all citizens and MSM to find solutions and work together, and that ain't happening .

Scruffy Scirocco said...

You lost me on your first sentence. The Electoral College is NOT an outmoded institution, It is an essential part of our electoral process that guarantees that empowers voters and guarantees the foundation of our democratic republic.
Read and learn, my friend:
http://discovermagazine.com/1996/nov/mathagainsttyran914

Linda Rivera said...

Daniel: "The deficit has reached a catastrophic number, social security has been running a deficit since 2010 and we're slicing the military to pieces to pay for foreign aid to Afghanistan."

If our very severe financial situation is not taken care of ASAP, it is the END of America into a Third World desperate nation.

Anonymous said...

One wonders if President "Lead From Behind" is really going to do much better on foreign policy?
Divine payback for his stances on Israel and Netanyahu I think.

Gene Stromeyer said...

Electoral college is not outmoded. It is a vital part of the republican process in a democratic nation.
I usually like your posts but not this time.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Daniel, I agree with regarding the outcome of the debate. The criteria for who won were primarily the look, the gesture, who looked up, who looked down, who was shaking. Not having a television that gets signal outside our canyon (by choice), my husband and I listened to the debate (?) on an AM station. It is a different experience than watching, because one actually hears what is said, proof I guess of the old saw that "the medium is the message." We were looking very closely at Romney, because he is the only dominant party candidate that we might consider voting for. What a disappointment. For us, the upshot of the debate went something like this:
Obama: I am going to throw more money at Medicare.
Romney: Me, too! But mine will look slightly different.
Obama: I don't want to talk about the role of government, so I am going to talk about creating new science and math teachers. And increasing student loan support to bankrupt our kids.
Romney: OK, let's talk about student loans. Of course I'm not going to take those away, they're too popular.
Obama: I like Obamacare and I want to increase its burden on the people.
Romney: I'll get rid of Obamacare--except the really cool bits like keeping kids on their parents' insurance until middle age--but I like Romneycare, so my plan will be just as coercive but at the state level.

There were so many Kum-ba-yah moments that we were worried they were going to get it on right there in front of God and everybody.

Romney came out to us looking like just another progressive statist. Neither candidate talked about the really pressing domestic issues that face our country, and neither can keep all their promises and plans they have and actually do something to save us from real financial meltdown. I guess the only good thing about Romney is that he sounds like an American progressive statist, whereas Obama sounds like a foreign progressive statist.

As an Objectivist friend of mine put it: "Romney conceded so many premises that I am afraid he does not have a self."

Once again, nobody won, and the American people lose yet again. Romney's only virtue is that Obama will dig the hole we're in a whole lot faster than he will. But he's determined to keep on digging, too.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

the remark about the electoral college being 'outmoded' is ironic

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

Elisheva, shh you're ruining the party. Now people will notice that Romney is running on a platform of making liberalism work, while Obama is running on a platform of bankrupting everything so that we default to a people's republic.

Anonymous said...

Best tweet of the night

Obama better hope a Kicked Ass is covered under Obamacare.

Keliata said...

I missed (okay refused to watch) the debate. Did Romney walk on egg shells as McCain was virtually forced to do in 2008?

Anonymous said...

Keliata,

Personally I think McCain lost because he has spent too many years in government and actually believed the tripe that the media pedels. So he genuflected to Obama in the campaign and was the "nice guy" (schmuck) who got rewarded accordingly. Given some of his pronouncements on the Middle East since, I have no sympathy or use for him. He would have been a Bush light in my estimation, governing by the poll numbers, as he seemed to want to be liked or respected for something more than he wanted to be President.

Anonymous said...

DG wrote: In five years there will hardly be any difference between them as they tumble into a volcano with a death grip around each other's pageviews.

Very good. I'm still chucking at the mental image that sentence evoked.

DP111

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