04 October 2008

Fish Wrapper

Final debate wrapup, starting with some amusement before getting into the serious stuff:

Shoe, 04 October 2008

Tony Auth, 02 October 2008 (resized)David Parkins, 04 October 2008 (resized)Dave Granlund, 30 September 2008 (resized)Nick Anderson, 03 October 2008 (resized)   The real problem with these debates is that although they are supposed to help educate the American voting public on the candidates, they have degenerated since the 1960s into a further opportunity to evade — to prevaricate — to delay, delay, delay, hoping that one's opponent is the first one to commit a gaffe. That's not a debate; instead, as Barney Frank rightly objected to Bill O'Reilly's arrogant face, "Your stupidity gets in the way of rational discussion!". It is also an artifact of the particular evolution of political parties in this nation, which never had a sound ideological/principled foundation (other than "give to me, and take away from my opponents"); even in nations that have centuries of electoral politics to consider, there has been the same rush toward the center-right in the name of elections — not of policy, or governance, or anything else. In short, the election itself has become the objective — whereas the election is only an intermediate step. The gross incompetence of virtually everyone at governance since Watergate is rather disheartening; as I've remarked here before, many astute political observers (academic and otherwise) believe that Carter's greatest achievement was getting elected in the first place, which certainly changed the American political calculus... and not for the better. Of course, he was just following in the footsteps of Nixon's 1972 campaign.

   Perhaps my disdain results from an unrealistic ambition: I really do expect "rational discussion" on politics. Of late, that has seemed a Pollyannish expectation. American politics has been reduced to "who has control of patronage at the moment." For those who have much knowledge of American history (not including Sarah Palin, obviously), that comment should inspire uncomfortable thoughts of Ulysses S. Grant's administration, which is widely reviled as one of the least satisfactory eras in the US presidency (and it has risen to number 7 from the bottom in this methodologically flawed list due primarily to revisionist views of history... but is nonetheless comfortably in the bottom 15%). So, for that matter, should the banking crisis; and the President's style (and history of substance abuse; I'll no doubt get pilloried for that comparison); and the ineffectiveness of political means for dealing with deep cultural divides on purported issues of "morals" that are, at their core, largely economic.

Even more than Ulysses S. Grant, contemporary American politics should remind Americans of the politics of eighteenth-century England. Listing personal parallels between George W. Bush to George III is too easy, starting from inarticulateness and moving steadily toward delusion and outright insanity. It's disturbingly similar even among their advisors, almost as if there had been a Shakespearean history George III being revived today in modern dress, much like the sadly underseen Richard III, or even Kenneth Branagh's thoughtful riff on Mark Rylance's Hamlet. Either way, though, it gives me little hope that either candidate could possibly change Washington as much as he proclaims he will; it will require a sustained outside force to do so. A short, sharp shock may well not improve things; the last short, sharp shock we had — a little over seven years ago — only accelerated the descent into madness.