Still Pissed Off About the Hawley-Smoot Tariff

Friday, October 08, 2004

Enjoy the Presidential “Debates”

Note: The following is my column for next week's edition of Dicta, the law school's student newspaper. As always, Crocodile fans get the scoop.

By the time you read this, you will already have had the opportunity to watch one vice presidential debate and two presidential debates. That’s assuming, of course, that the crack staff of Dicta can manage to get this back from the printers in a reasonable time. It’s entirely possible that by the time you read this, the sun will have gone cold, and the 2004 debates will be quite irrelevant. But as hope springs eternal, I’ll assume we’ve got three down and one to go.

The reason I put the word "debates" in quotes in the title is because they aren’t really debates. And the reason I don’t put it in quotes everywhere in this column is because I’m lazy. They aren’t debates because that word suggests some kind of progressive and responsive building of a case, point by point. Instead we have a moderator asking all the questions, and the candidates basically spouting talking points in a style as hollow as the Miss America pageant. For example:

Moderator: Mr. President, how do you respond to critics who say you’re worse than Hitler?
President: Ich will ihnen vernichten!
Moderator: I see. Mr. Kerry, you have great hair.
Kerry: Thank you. That reminds me of the time I spent Hannukah in Vietnam...

Or from the veep debates:

Moderator: Mr. Edwards, you say that you have plan to solve the medical care crisis in America, but aren’t you personally responsible for a large portion of that very crisis?
Edwards: [Smiles charmingly].
Moderator: Mr. Cheney, your fans really want to watch you lift Senator Edwards off the ground and snap him in half like a twig. Would you care to oblige?
Cheney: Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve created.

So you see, these aren’t really debates. We’re watching posturing, preening, the occasional death threat, John Kerry turning into some species of pumpkin, and scripted responses to obvious questions. All of that warrants the use of quotes in the title, and if I could be troubled to push a couple of extra keys on the keyboard, within the text of the column, as well.

The Greeks knew how to debate. That’s what I’d like to see: a good old-fashioned Greek-style debate, in the tradition of Socrates, Plato, and, erm, that other guy, Astronaut.

Moderator: Mr. Kerry, your opponent has done an excellent job of portraying you as a flip-flopper. Can you please clarify for us the Aristotelian claim that Tragedy is superior to Epic poetry in all respects?
Kerry: I ... well, you know, back when I was in Vietnam, I once was ordered to take my boat along the watery borders between Vietnam and Cambodia...
Moderator: Thank you, Mr. Kerry, but after consulting a map I’ve determined that your claim is geographically impossible. Mr. President, the next question is for you. Some pundits argue that while many conservatives support your aggressive war policies, you’ve alienated your base through unrestrained spending on non-military projects. Considering that charge, can you describe for us the philosophical implications of the cave described by Plato in the tenth chapter of his "Republic"?
President: Well, you see, the cave is a metaphor for the lack of perception...
Moderator: I’m sorry, that was a trick question. The cave is described in the seventh book. That’s all we have time for. Good night, ladies and gentlemen.