My wife begged me not to write about the presidential election. Instead, she suggested I opine about new turf fields at the high schools, the off-leash dog park at Westgrove or how Scott Surovell likes to slop around in the mud looking for shopping carts.
“Anything but the election,” she pleaded.
So, how about those debates, huh?
I’ve been involved in national and local politics for many years. I was originally inspired by Bobby Kennedy when he ran for President in 1968, then got rather involved in the anti-Vietnam protest movement. I’ve worked for several members of Congress, including Mount Vernon’s own Herb Harris. I was once voted one of the “Top 50 Lobbyists” by the Washingtonian magazine, worked on numerous political campaigns and even entertained the idea of running for Mount Vernon Supervisor until Gerry Hyland decided to run again last year.
Over those years, I’ve learned that politics is a contact sport. You have to be able to hit back, to respond to the attacks, to stand up for what you believe - and the presidential debates are a perfect forum for the candidates to show their stuff to millions and millions of Americans, including a few in Mount Vernon.
But this time around I found it very difficult to watch these debates.
My discomfort started as I watched my preferred candidate, President Obama, sink into a coma during the first debate. Indeed, at one point I wondered if the moderator was going to invoke the 25th Amendment because the President was clearly incapacitated. Fortunately, it wasn’t that serious but I got the sense that Obama would rather have been somewhere else that night. Meanwhile, Governor Mitt Romney looked all pink and rosy and, like a lap dog, was salivating at the opportunity to tell the American public that he had lots of ideas (which he did not detail) about how to create a job and that he really, really, really cared about the middle class.
Then there was the constant sniping, not just between the candidates but between the candidates and the moderator. Before the event, the two parties agree to the rules of the debate, how much time you have in your opening statement, time to rebut, how high the podiums are, who stands on what side. And then the candidates – and the moderator – throw out the rules. I don’t know about you but I found my blood pressure going up whenever one of the candidates shouted down the moderator with a “But wait Jim, I really need to make this point, this is important!” That was just bad manners and it makes people very uncomfortable. And I’m not sure how effective it is because I believe that most viewers focus on the fact that the candidate is being disrespectful and don’t listen to that oh-so-important last statement. I’m sorry but I do not think that denigrating a journalistic giant like Jim Lehrer wins you any votes.
Then of course there is the now standard tactic that is drilled into the candidate’s head: YOU DON’T HAVE TO ANSWER THE QUESTION, DUMMY. At one point, Mr. Romney was asked about Libya and within 10 seconds he was talking about how he would create billions of jobs that would pay $120 an hour. At the same time, Obama never really explained what he is gonna do in his second term but they both agreed that - Aurora be damned – we do love that precious Second Amendment!
The second debate was just like a cock fight, no more needs to be said. Then, fortunately, the last debate was slightly more civilized because the President had to look, well, like a President and Romney had to sound comforting and not scare the bejuses out of folks a la Barry Goldwater in 1964. Still, at times there was that uncomfortable sniping again:
“I said the attack on Libya was an act of terror.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“I did too!”
Okay, here are two suggestions: Let the moderator shut off the microphone the minute the candidate takes a question about something like same-sex marriage and start talking about jobs and fighting for the middle class. Or, better yet, let’s have an orchestra in the pit that starts playing music when the candidate starts veering off into Never-Never Land. I mean, it works at the Academy Awards, doesn’t it?