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Friday, October 12, 2012

Dear Abby: How About Those Understudies?

Last week, I wrote about my thoughts on the first presidential debate. This week, I'm taking requested aim at the debate between the two guys who want the "one heartbeat away" job.

There was a frothy, frenzied firestorm of fired-uppedness after the presidential debate. Love him or hate him, everyone was agog with emotion after Mitt Romney stood on stage and managed to avoid shoving his foot in his mouth up to his knee cap.

This morning, people who care seem generally split right down the (probably partisan) line regarding who emerged last night as the "victor." There is a lot of talk about VP Biden's LOLs and emoticons. Many are curious about what kind of power bar Congressman Ryan slammed before his 90 minutes of verbal cardio.


I think last night's debate perfectly encapsulated why politics is such a pain in the assumptions.

You would think that the people who have made it to a position of national leadership would know how to say things that are, you know, true. You would think they could avoid hypocrisy more often than not. You would also think they could answer a direct question.

Oh, you silly little voter!

The more I pay attention to politics and politicians, the more I realize that what a politician says is completely irrelevant. The tangled web on which a political actor stands is a criss-cross of tit-for-tats, money mongering, cronyism and backroom handshakes. Their bully pulpit is inscribed with the words "Remember Who Is Financing Your Re-election Campaign," and their teleprompters' screen saver reads "Just Say Whatever It Takes."

To really understand what "your guy" or "your gal" stands for, you have to rely on his or her actual record, your gut, and your fear of the other guy or other gal. Or you just have to decide which party is your horse, and bet on it regardless of which jockey is saddling up.

Here's how last night confirmed this dismal assessment:

  • Many pundits have been saying that the best way to evaluate these debate performances is to put your television on mute and just watch the men's demeanor. That's right, the best way to decide who to vote for is to TUNE OUT WHATEVER THEY ARE SAYING. Indeed, this morning I heard Howard Dean (former candidate for prez and former chair of the DNC) say that he thought VP Biden looked most "like a leader" during an exchange last night about Libya. Mind you, VP Biden bumbled this particular part of the debate (saying the administration had no idea the Libyan embassy wanted more security, when all evidence points to the fact the ambassadors were begging for more marines). But, Mr. Dean says, if you had your volume off and weren't LISTENING to the inaccuracies, boy, did VP Biden look like a guy we should want to vote for.
  • Fact-checking is the fastest growing industry in the United States. It appears both sides really do care about job creation, because they are sacrificing truth-telling so that armies of civilians with Internet connections can publish columns and blog posts that list all the things each candidate said wrong last night or yesterday or one second ago. If you submit yourself to listening to a debate or a speech or an interview, you must then sign yourself up for at least five minutes of reading the fact-checkers so that you can know what noise to pull out from your reeling frontal lobe. The politicians aren't the ones telling you the data points you need to make an informed decision. Some guy who goes to work in his pajamas and whose biggest decision each day is "Google or Bing?" is.
  • At the end of the debate, moderator Martha Raddatz asked each candidate whether they were disappointed in the nasty tone of the campaign. VP Biden acknowledged that both sides probably regretted certain accusations that were levied (although he did pass the buck and put that blame on the shoulders of the Super PACs). Congressman Ryan responded by ticking through his list of all the things Obama has done wrong as president. And....thankyouverymuch.
That non-answer was the one time over ninety minutes that Ms. Raddatz did not call Mr. Ryan on his non-answer. Probably because he'd eaten up all remaining time with his non-answer.

While the candidates shared moments of dull glimmering last night, Ms. Raddatz positively glowed. She moved the men from topic to topic, cut them off and stared them down. She pushed each man with questions directed at a particular weakness, and noted - out loud - when they hadn't responded to the question. My favorite part was when Congressman Ryan condescendingly asked her "oh, so you want to move to defense," and she stared directly back at him and said, "Yes." And he did.

So there is another lesson from last night. A more positive one. And it is this:

If you want to move the political discussion forward, ask a woman to do it.

"You're lucky I'm a gentleman and there are all those cameras over there. Because otherwise I'd have slammed you in the solar plexus so hard, you'd be gasping for air. Do you know how many push ups I did this morning alone?"

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