01 August 2019

Master Debaters

Let's get one thing out of the way first. The last two nights on CNN (and the preceding iteration) were not a "debate." They were a bloody talent show all too similar to the Miss USA pageant, with just about as much relationship to reality, to merit, and/or to elections. Bluntly: Policy decisions are not made on a stage under lights in response to questions from marginally informed reporters whose primary job is to enhance network ratings. Neither, for that matter, are voting decisions… something that the thing on Drumpf's head demonstrated that it understood all too well in 2016. This wasn't even a three-penny opera; it lacked Macheath as a moderator, and in place of the Queen's intervention at the end we had "we've run out of time."

The fundamental problem with public charades of this nature is that reality doesn't present chief executives with problems that have neat, simple, boundaries and neat, simple, one-dimensional solutions… that don't overlap with anything else, that never require balancing of different priorities and side effects (anticipated or otherwise), that are never undermined by opposing personal interests (or institutional interests, let alone historical imperatives). No moderator has ever asked even so simple a follow-up question as this:

How would you implement a policy concerning the opioid crisis of addiction while simultaneously acknowledging the need for pain relief and low availability of continuing medical care in the regions most hurt by opioids?

And that doesn't even get into "OK, now how do you implement that in the face of strong moral objections from really noisy objectors, especially any in Congress?" or "OK, now how is it going to be paid for?" or "OK, what's your medical evidence that strategy could work?" All too often, the candidates were talking to themselves, running down prepared points of what they (and their handlers) wanted to hear instead of even engaging with difficulties… let alone opposing viewpoints.

Worse, though, is this possibility — a question that, so far as I've been able to determine, has not been asked of a presidential candidate in a public debate since they were first telecast over half a century ago:

This is a follow-up to the previous question. [An outside force of some kind] absolutely prevents you from implementing that policy. Tell me how you would respond.

Because Napoleon was an optimist. It is not just "the enemy" that kills off plans — it is reality. An unexpected hurricane or earthquake that results in lots of orthopedic and soft-tissue injuries, for example, putting additional stress on the medical system while also increasing the demand for long-term pain relief, would be an obvious possibility, and is precisely the sort of thing that actually faces chief executives.

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I am carefully refraining from comment about how Boris the Spider is trying to demonstrate that Anglophone executives "elected" through a combination of voter suppression, voter deception, and restricted voting populations invariably turn into clowns, when they weren't clowns to start with. Except, of course, this one.