Last week delivered another grim marker in the decline of a once great nation: the first of the 2012 presidential debates (if my response is a tad belated, please note that I had to wait until I stopped vomiting).
I have listened to Debate #1 in its entirety — twice: once in the standard format, and again with Amy Goodman’s expanded, “sound barrier-breaking” format, inserting the responses of presidential candidates from the Green and Justice parties (the Libertarian Party’s candidate was also invited to participate in the DemocracyNow! forum, but declined that invitation). I’ve also read the transcript of the Romney-Obama debate, just to make sure I’d heard what I thought I’d heard (unfortunately, I had – urp.). Lastly, I’ve poured over several post-game dissections of this ghastly mess, including Glenn Greenwald’s latest, which I recommend highly. And after doing all of these things (and taking something to settle my tummy), I think I have my response/analysis together, so here goes!
1. Poor Player, the First: Jim Lehrer (The Empty Chair) — The cartoon on the cover of The New Yorker, depicting Romney debating the empty “Obama chair” that Clint Eastwood made famous, actually gets it wrong (as does most of the coverage that says Obama “failed to show up” or was “unprepared”). The truth is the empty chair was Jim Lehrer’s. The venerable PBS mainstay, the absurdly deferential dud, Mr. Lehrer, has been the subject of many scathing attacks — most of which have been pretty well-founded, actually (performing the most high-profile job he ever does, the man was invisible). The only defense that Lehrer has offered is the tidbit that he and the candidates had decided beforehand that he would be more or less irrelevant to the proceedings. That was the agreed-upon format: Lehrer would take a back seat and just let the two candidates engage in a conversation… Great. Only what does such an agreement do to the role of the JOURNALIST who is supposed to be present at these kinds of affairs? It obliterates it, obviously, leaving no moderator/referee to call fair balls and foul, resulting in a fact-free, free-for-all. And that’s why, in my assessment, Jim Lehrer really screwed the pooch on this one.
2. Poor Player, the Second: Barack Obama (The Cautious/Ingratiating Wonky Doll, with Pull-string) — As I noted in the previous paragraph, the problem with the president’s performance isn’t that he failed to show up or prepare. The problem was that Barack Obama showed up as himself: Mr. Conciliator, Mr. I’m One of You, Mr. I know policy like the back of my hand, if you’ll just give me a few more minutes to explain. The president was well-prepared, dazzling even Romney with his knowledge of the details of his (Romney’s) policies — that is, when Romney wasn’t brazenly and FALSELY calling the president a liar, “not entitled to (his) own facts,” for accurately describing the Republican’s proposed policies. The president clearly went into this debate intent on playing the Cautious Game: I’m winning, all I’ve gotta’ do is show up and not soil myself. The problem was decidedly not with his command of the facts/policy, but with his strategy, which is one-fold: try not to offend anyone. He professorially tried to correct Romney’s falsehoods in such a manner that no one would think he was being disagreeable. It was “Rope a Dope,” I guess, but only if Ali had never thrown any punches and spent most of the fight trying to convince Foreman that he liked him and they had a lot in common (“Hey, guy, your Social Security position and mine are virtually identical, don’tcha’ think? And my healthcare reform was really just conceived as an homage to your brilliance! Love me! Love me! I bent Uncle Sam over for Wall Street! I ended habeas corpus! I’m one of YOUUUUUU!!!”).
3. Poor Player, the Third, Mitt Romney (the Reprogrammable Man) — Actually, I think that the consensus opinion on Romney’s performance is about right: It was a triumph of style over substance. Mr. “Etch-o-sketch” did just what his campaign promised and flipped another flop, “re-setting” his Etch-o-campaign’s message for the general election by driving hard back to the middle (why, he’ll even cover pre-existing conditions now, just like “Obamacare” does! …Only he won’t — that was one of several bona fide WHOPPERS that Romney told at the debate). Romney has done just what his campaign telegraphed when his pollster asserted that it would not let the “fact-checkers” dictate their talking points (clearly, they have not). Just as Cheney determined in George Bush’s first term that “deficits don’t matter” (when Republicans are in the White House), the Romney 2012 campaign has determined (accurately, unfortunately) that FACTS DON’T MATTER.
The result: a sham debate, where no hard questions were asked and many of the answers were 100% false (starkly contradicted in many cases by Mr. Romney’s own words, including core campaign promises made repeatedly in the weeks leading up to the debate) — with no adult on the scene to sort out the truth/mendacity of such claims for the audience of some 70 million viewers. Such a “debate” represents an insult to the electorate and a canny nod/brazen F.U. (on the part of the Romney folks) to a broken and dysfunctional media elite, incapable of calling out the GOP ticket for the unprecedented and truly stunning level of contempt it has shown for facts in this U.S. presidential election season… This conduct is very similar, I should note, to the canny nod/brazen F.U. (on the part of the Obama folks) to those same media losers, knowing that they’re too on-board with the .01%’s agenda to endanger it by pointing out that the “Democrat” in this race has already committed himself — with equal vigor — to draconian, totally unnecessary austerity and entitlement slashing!
The unavoidable conclusion: Now more than ever, American elections and debates amount only to empty theater, bereft of substance, subject only to critiques on style, body language, forcefulness, and zingers. Facts and histories can be easily distorted (even inverted, as Romney proved last Wednesday) with none the wiser in our current funhouse of a political milieu. Partisan news sources on the MSM’s faux margins (Fox and MSNBC) tell the faithful what they want to hear, and ever-equivocating ditherers at supposedly credible journalistic institutions (like Mr. Lehrer, Brokaw, Blitzer, etc.) assiduously muddy the controversies and toe the official line, eschewing all talk of $16 trillion bailouts and ongoing official U.S. rendition and torture.
Meanwhile, the country’s elites and oligarchs have offered us two nearly identical candidates whose policy prescriptions not only mirror each other’s (“I have the same advisors you do,” asserted the president last Wednesday, referring to a POLICY matter), but whose alleged “remedies” (GOP-Democrat) are tantamount to national economic suicide: a permanent contraction of the middle class with jobs continuing to move overseas while our infrastructure rots and tens of millions of people remain un-/underemployed, with millions more underwater or facing foreclosure from a bunch of unreformed, recidivist criminal banking giants…
IT’S AS IF OBAMA AND ROMNEY NEVER HEARD OF FDR, THE NEW DEAL, OR JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES (but of course they have — only it’s not time for America to recover from its economic woes, as it was in the late 1930s; it’s time, in 2012, for AUSTERITY, for America to recede and get outsourced to death, bound-up with “free” trade pacts, and chopped into little pieces for global corporations to devour, making way for booming China and India and the REAL “new world order” — the global Corporatocracy/surveillance-police state that America has helped create over the last few decades).
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Finally, as promised, here’s PROOF THAT INTELLIGENT DEBATE EXISTS:
1. The aforementioned expanded debate on DemocracyNow! featuring presidential candidates Jill Stein (The Green Party) and Rocky Anderson (The Justice Party) — brace yourself for actual issues of significance to be broached (civil liberties, the global climate crisis, the soaring healthcare costs behind America’s projected deficits…);
2. The always excellent Prof. Mahmood Mamdani debating the militarist/colonialist agenda and propaganda of the “Save Darfur” organization with John Prendergast; and
3. A fascinating debate between Glenn Greenwald and former Bush speechwriter David Frum (the committed neocon who, along with Michael Gerson, coined the immensely stultifying phrase “Axis of Evil” in 2002, paving the way for Bush to invade Iraq). This riveting debate features one man arguing for the principles of Western civilization (Greenwald) and another who is clearly battling monsters and wants to cheer unabashedly when the state murders one (Mr. Frum, clearly having failed to appreciate Nietzsche’s warning against turning one’s human enemies into “monsters,” thereby degrading one’s own humanity and increasing the likelihood that one will commit monstrous acts oneself — TORTURE, for instance — in the pursuit of conquering that “evil”).
“Battle not with monsters lest ye become a monster; and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes into you.” — Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche