The Terrible Tragedy of Tonight’s Presidential Debate
In a proverbial sense, Rome is burning to the ground. And, while much of our national economy lays in ashes and the American Dream smolders in flames, all anyone seems to be talking about is the opera.
That’s the terrible tragedy of tonight’s Presidential Debate, which has been covered and discussed more like the buildup to a Super Bowl game rather than any bona fide exchange of real ideas and actual substance that will solve some very serious problems. At this moment, parading around out in front of the arena where the debate will take place, thousands of “fans” are holding signs cheering for their side. One would think Ohio State is playing Michigan. It’s a contest of who can scream the loudest or who can make the cleverest sign.
Indeed, the gravity of our nation’s problems are very real and quite serious. Yet — while a senseless foreign war continues, while we continue to bleed ourselves dry policing the entire world, while we drown by the trillions in debt, while our inner cities crumble, while affordable health care is more costly and out of reach than ever before, and while millions of Americans remain hopelessly out of work, after tonight’s debate everyone’s going to be asking one utterly baffling question — “who won?”
I’d like to ask my own question — why are we focusing on “who won?” As long as we focus on such trivialities, then we all lose.
The dog and pony show of primped and prepared candidates begins in a few hours. The “pre-game show” pretty much consists of discussion about style. How will President Obama react when Mitt Romney is speaking? Should one candidate interrupt the other? When is it acceptable to smile? Will Obama be more forceful? Will Romney be able to connect with viewers?
What does DEBATING have to do with solving problems? What do CLEVER SOUND BITES have to do with contemplating new courses of action for our nation? What does LIKABILITY have to do with creating a real revoltion of thought, not just of governance but of a new national attitude and creating greater expectations from our government and elected officials?
Americans should demand more of our government. Much more. Cynicism about government needs to be extinquished and supplanted with a new sense of optimism that our problems can indeed be solved with great leadership. Note that I did not say, solved with government. I said, solved with great leadership. Alas, great leadership can be channeled through government — as well as business, and academia, and science, and industry, and elsewhere. Americans should demand nothing less of all of our institutions and those who lead them.
Think about it this way. What does a great debate performance have to do with being a successful President? Sure, communication skills are important. But given the complexity of all the issues before us, what we really need is a puzzle solver, not an entertainer. Matters having to do with the global economy are not going to be solved by jokes and snappy comebacks. In fact, one could make a strong argument that the superficiality of debates clouds substantive dialogue.
I don’t expect anything I have written here to matter much, if at all. But think about it for a moment and ask yourself if all the talk about style really serves any purpose?
In a few hours, it will be over and the post-game show will begin. Look for both debate “performances” to be parsed by 50 million Monday morning quarterbacks. Meanwhile, throw another log on the fire while modern Rome continues to burn.