Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Political Discourse

I didn't watch the latest McCain-Obama debate - though the universal consensus I'm hearing from the press, from colleagues, and from across the political spectrum is disappointment. One area of common ground among Democrats and Republicans is the mutual dissatisfaction with today's political discourse.

Nobody will answer a direct question! No one will simply let his 'yes' be 'yes' and his 'no', 'no'. It used to be that a skilled rhetorician could answer a question and yet "steer" his answer smoothly in a direction of his choosing. But today, rhetorical smoothness has been replaced by the sudden jerkiness of the sound byte. Intelligent discussion has been supplanted by the parroting of "talking points". Questions are now just blatantly ignored. It has almost gotten to the point where a "debate" might include the question: "What is two plus two?" and the answer: "my opponent is a jerk."

I believe this disappointing performance of the top echelon of the candidates reflects a "dumbing down" of politicians overall. There are exceptions, of course, but the brightest and best as a rule don't serve in government. Instead, we get the slick, the connected, the wealthy, the image-salesman, the one with a quip, the one who tells people what their itching ears want to hear - with no regard for truthfulness.

Our politicians have become laughingstocks and buffoons.

This election cycle is no different than any other (though perhaps worse in magnitude) - we are besieged by career politicians doing the bidding of lobbyists and handlers - all pulled by the strings of focus groups, strategists, and party bosses.

That is not leadership, but marketing.

The uncanny resemblance Sarah Palin has to Tina Fey invites Fey's comedic timing and imagination to perfectly spoof this reality. The above video shows that Fey's "comedic" rambling shtick is virtually identical to Palin's "serious" rambling discourse. Think about it - there is an increasingly blurry line between Saturday Night Live and the Federal government.

The United States is quickly becoming a parody of itself. Statesmanship is all but dead. And on that, it seems that Republicans and Democrats have a lot of agreement.


Dixie said...

Wow! I was watching SNL election clips last night on while my husband was watching the debate and I just saw the Palin spoof. (Sorry but 5 minutes into the debate had me more ill than my current retirement fund so I hightailed it to hulu for some comic relief.) I had no idea those were the actual words used!

But think about it...who in their right mind wants to run for office these days with the media all up into people's lives and making every misstep into a headliner. Only pathological narcissists, people who aren't so bright and loonies are willing to subject themselves to such inordinate scrutiny. If there is a dumbing down of politicians (and I tend to agree that there is) then both the media and the public which eats up anything the media tries to put out as scandal are to blame. I am not saying that we should wink away a leader who has ethical problems but...well, let him who is without sin cast the first stone. I know there have been things in my life I wouldn't want splashed on the front page of the Atlanta Journal Constitution!

solarblogger said...

I was surprised how little Tina Fey had changed things when I first saw those two clips aired one after the other.

When watching these candidates, I think voters often have misplaced sympathy for them. They think, "I would have hated to walk into that question unprepared." But a candidate SHOULD be in a position where through long familiarity, answering such questions is easy.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Dixie:

I would think being abused by the Atlanta Journal- Constitution (which I'm sure you know what it's popularly called in Atlanta) would be an honor. ;-) I found the AJC to be worthless - of course I lived there after Louis Grizzard died.

I never tire of seeing Gov. Maddox's portrait in the Capitol holding a copy of the AJC wrapped around a fish. He was such a rascal: the only governor of Georgia to leave poorer than when he started.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Solar:

I was once hired for a software engineering position - and the guy who hired me told me that what got me the job was when he asked me a specific technical question that I did not know the answer to, and I said: "I don't know. I'd have to look that up."

He was so used to people lying and making stuff up in interviews, and he liked the fact that I was honest and told him right away when I didn't know something. I guess in a strange kind of way, saying "I don't know" reflects a certain amount of confidence. Nobody knows everything.

First of all, I'd like presidential candidates to understand (really understand) the Constitution - inside and out (which is not difficult), and then be knowledgeable in things like History, Economics, military strategy, international diplomacy, and possibly have some fluency in foreign languages. And if they didn't know something that was put to them in a question, I'd like them to admit it instead of lying, holding a death-grip on the talking points, and doing the Curly Shuffle all over the place.

It just doesn't seem like I'm asking for a whole lot here. But that's not the world we live in today, is it?

solarblogger said...

The nice thing about the Constitution is that it changes so little. Given that it delineates where a leader does or does not have authority, that makes it key. I worry less if a candidate can name all the players currently on the world stage than if the leader has no idea what his or her true responsibilities are under the Constitution.

There's a kind of smoothness that is impressive, especially at the time of delivery. It often turns out to be the result of what you mention: lying or ignoring the question asked. I prefer a strong sense that the candidate has a carefully thought out political philosophy that matches our political documents. But I've only seen a couple of those in my own lifetime.