Did anyone notice the color of the carpet on the debate stage? It was an almost blinding shade of bright red? Unusual color to see anyplace but on a fire truck. Don’t believe I’ve ever seen a carpet of that color before.
The logical explanation is that the debate planners didn’t want you to see the blood on the floor.
Yes, I recused myself from criticizing the debate performance of President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney. But I have to say I’m appalled by the state of American political discourse in general. Maybe we should skip the debates and select the next president by mixed martial arts in a cage. Or if that’s over the top, maybe an old-fashioned fist fight with civilized rules and a referee.
I think three developments have turned American politics into an angry brawl.
First, economic dislocation puts any society under great stress. And believe me, what we’re going through is NOT a recession or depression.
It’s CHANGE, major restructuring of the world economy. Many throughout the world see a rising standard of living. But many more are dispossessed of their natural resources and exploited for their labor. All the while, large populations remain hopelessly impoverished and sometimes starving.
In the U.S. and many European countries, economic change is experienced as dislocation. We’re not starving, but a comfortable status quo has been rudely shaken. Many people are caught in a relentless tide of change, washed up on a less desirable part of the beach. Those who remain on higher, drier ground, loudly proclaim that the
flogging austerity will continue until morale profitability and growth improve.
Second, an ineffable quality of American life has been debased in recent decades. Standards and expectations of honor, education, manners, respect, restraint, propriety have been slowly but steadily eroded. Crude, rude and abusive language and behavior are tolerated and even encouraged. Random violence becomes commonplace.
You can’t blame it all on any one thing. Not reality television, not music lyrics, not pornography, not violent computer games, not drugs, not even the waning influence of family and community. But put it all together, and the cumulative effect is palpable.
Third, unlimited millions can now be spent on virulent attack ads. Anyone who’s rich enough can overwhelm the free speech of ordinary citizens and essentially buy election success.
In view of economic dislocation and social decay, is it any surprise that American politics has turned mean, angry, vengeful, destructive.
I wonder if we shouldn’t junk the sordid modern system of presidential debates, talk radio, cable TV commentators, and unlimited political spending.
Don’t say it’s not possible. Several models of discourse are appealing.
- We used to have a blend of reasoned editorial-page writing; negotiation by knowledgeable leaders in smoke-filled rooms; and real political conventions that made real decisions about platforms and candidates in public. The public part, at least, was done in a spirit of wildly optimistic, musical, and patriotic celebration. Call me nostalgic. That quaint American system had its shortcomings, but it worked.
- The British Parliament has a tradition of sometimes rowdy but usually civilized debate. Back-benchers are free to join in with jeers or cheers, but reasonable decorum is maintained. The Parliamentary tradition of majority rule, often requiring a coalition of parties and concessions all around, continues to work, while majority-rule in the U.S. Senate has failed. Perhaps the British concept of the “loyal opposition” would help in the U.S. Senate.
- Also appealing is the tradition in many Christian churches in America, especially in the South, of high-minded, impassioned oratory based on widely held fundamental values. It’s positive, uplifting, and inclusive. Members of the congregation often feel inspired to encourage the preacher with cries of “Tell it!” “Yes!” and “Amen, Brother!” The same rhetorical style has been used to positive effect in a number of social reform movements in the public sphere. It should be used more often.
Somebody please say Amen.
– John Hayden
- Let’s Shake Up Presidential Debates (bigthink.com)