October 09, 2004

I like a nice melodrama, me

So in-between the pre-game show and After Hours, there was this debate, and it was, if nothing else, great television. It was high drama, with a lot of yelling, interpersonal tension, and a twist to separate Act I from Act II. The ending was a let-down, but it was a let-down of the "to be continued" kind. Each side left the field believing they had won - at this point only the audience realizes that it could still go either way. It's like an episode of The Practice.

Kerry's strategy was to try to goad the president into ill-temper, to try to spark a replay of the peevish demeanor of the first debate. It totally worked, and then some, in the first half. Bush seemed angry, almost hysterical at times. He was angry at Kerry. He was angry at Charles Gibson. He was angry at the folks who asked the questions. I once saw a lady trying to return a vacuum cleaner without a receipt at the Payless; and I once had an argument with a credit card customer service agent who claimed they had never received a payment when the check had been cashed weeks earlier; and in the movie Rosemary's Baby, there's this scene where Mia Farrow has just been told that her baby had been born dead and she starts screaming "you're lying! You're lying! It didn't die! You took it! You took it! You witches! You witches!" George Bush, the vacuum cleaner lady, Mia Farrow and I all had pretty much the same kind of tone and delivery. If you want to return a vacuum cleaner or sort out your credit card bill or get to the bottom of a plot by a coven of elderly Satanists to arrange for the Devil to impregnate you to produce a half-human/half-Devil baby, then it's pretty much the right way to go. And it's probably the right way to go if you want to impress Hugh Hewitt, too. But I'm not sure it's the best strategy to win over the skittish center, who are looking for something, anything, to persuade them to detest either of these guys just a little less than the other.

My friend Tris emailed me saying "have I gone insane or is Bush massively choking?" I had to agree: it was either one or the other.

Then, suddenly, George Bush calmed down and started acting normal. He started clowning around, doing that "likeable" schtick. Stopped looking like he was going to bite the head off a bat or an audience member (though he still seemed pissed off at Charles Gibson for some reason - maybe that'll be explained in the final episode.) Now it was the droning, monotonous Kerry who looked like the weirdo. Or at least, they seemed equally weird, but Bush seemed more human. Voters like that. A human president, I mean. Bush's closing was better; Kerry's personality-deficit had set in by that time. As far as I could tell, anyway: I admit, my attention had wandered a bit by then.

As for "substance," well, who knows? Both made good points, both left a lot hanging. I still have no earthly idea what Kerry really has planned for Iraq/Iran/the World. And Bush would gain a good deal of credibility if he could bring himself to concede that it's possible that he and his administration may have ever been in error on anything concerning the Iraq war. Maybe that wouldn't be smart politically, as the sound-bite would have been misleadingly played over and over till election day. But avoiding the question, unfair though it may have been, lends a bit of credence to Kerry's theme of a loss of touch with reality. Even, perhaps, for some of those who are still basically on board about the overall regime change strategy. (He's lucky Kerry is content to repeat the phrase blandly rather than going for the kill on it. I get the feeling that he doesn't skewer Bush more effectively on his weaknesses because he only partially understands why they're weaknesses.)

Kerry, on the other hand, has no clear response to the accusation that his position, to the degree that it can be determined, boils down to arguing that Saddam should have been left in power. (There's an argument to made there, though I disagree with it - he should really decide whether or not he wants to make it. "Not necessarily" was Kerry's weakest moment, edging out "hey, don't forget folks: I'm a lawyer too.") And the only hope for those who'd like to return to fiscal sanity is that maybe if Bush wins, he'll be a bit less likely to try to bribe narrowly-determined constituencies with federal subsidies and entitlements now that he no longer has to worry about his own re-election.

My vote is moot, as California is going to Kerry no matter what. But I've got to say, I'm going to be just about equally disappointed when either of these guys wins. Unless the final episode has a new twist that suddenly puts it all in perspective and reveals The Clear Choice. That sort of thing does happen on TV.

Posted by Dr. Frank at October 9, 2004 07:21 PM | TrackBack

I was pissed at Kerry because he wasn't answering ANY question satisfactorily. I was sick of hearing how much he said "I deeply respect your point of view, BUT..." and sick of him saying "I have a plan to reduce taxes, I have a plan for Iraq" etc. Well then what are they? I could tell you I have a million dollar idea for a novel or that I drive a Benz, but until I prove it, no one will know! That is the way it is with Kerry. I felt like I needed a shower to get the used car salesman residue off me after listening to him.

And then there's Bush. What else can be said that hasn't before?

I don't want either of them in office. In the end it's just going to be a case of people voting for Kerry because "he's not Bush" and people voting for Bush because "he's just an average Joe! I'd wanna go fishing with a guy like that."

I am so disgusted right now.

Posted by: Megan at October 9, 2004 07:51 PM

Poll data - http://www.electoral-vote.com/ - shows that CA is "Weak Kerry". I think there are a lot more undecided than anyone realizes. I live in a rather liberal town (Seattle) and I'm still amazed almost every day to hear from people who still haven't made up their mind. Your vote isn't moot, Frank. It's especially not moot once you make up your mind and you start explaining your position to other undecideds, and hopefully sway them... Sort of a "democratic zombie", I guess.

There's a lot of bullshit to see through in the debates from both of these guys. If these were actual competitive debates they'd both be kicked off their teams. Nobody answers the question that's been asked of them. There's too much focus on what's wrong with the other guy. It's bad.

The reason it's this way is because the media (yeah... I'm blaming the media...) has to focus on details like this. There's too much "Kerry's hair looks plastic" or "Bush can't pronounce a common word" talk and people eat that up. People love to see the candidates fail in stupid little ways, so each of them tries really hard to not look like an idiot, not say anything that might be considered at all radical, and to continually remind us of the faults of the other guy.

This drives me crazy, because I support Kerry. He makes me angry in these debates because he spends so much time attacking Bush and hardly any time interviewing for the job. It's a waste. Pretty much everyone, except for the totally delusional, knows that Bush is bad for America. You can't possibly look at his actions of the last four years or listen to him talk about his values and think that we're going to go anywhere better. Even when I hose off all the rhetoric and lies and pandering and I see what he really believes are the right things to do, I am almost driven to physical illness.

The fact is, Kerry does have plans and they do make sense. He touched on them ever so slightly last night, but not enough. He's realistic. He's not telling people that if he's elected he's going to fix the deficit and that everything in Iraq will be ok. He's telling us that he has plans to do things better and that he believes he can make progress where the president has not been able to. On the more difficult issues, like abortion, it'd be great if he could suck it up and be straight about his position. The problem is, if he did that, he'd be eaten alive. Senator Baby Killer would be the scourge of the hypocritical majority who, even though they'd be pro-choice if faced with an unwanted or life-threatening pregnancy themselves, would be outraged at him for saying the words out loud.

As long as people latch on to insignificant weaknesses and as long as people publicly scorn aggressive breaks from tradition while privately wanting a more progressive lifestyle, the debates will pretty much be useless pandering and mud-slinging. If you want to equip yourself to make a wise decision, then you have to be willing to read a lot, and do the best you can to pick out what's bullshit and what's not.

Barring that, then it pretty much comes down to whether or not you think Bush has done a satisfactory job over the last four years and if not, whether or not you're willing to give him another chance. So yeah, effectively voting "Bush" or "Not Bush" is the name of the game for quite a lot of voters this year. Sad.

Now then, when will we see the MTX descend on our fair, liberal, protest-happy city again?

Posted by: SteveC at October 9, 2004 09:09 PM

Thanks for the clarification. I listened to the first 10-15 minutes on the radio and Bush sounded awful--like he wanted to bite the head off a chicken or something. When I get to a TV about 20 minutes later, he sounded much better. I wondered about the difference...

Posted by: Chrees at October 11, 2004 06:31 PM
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