Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Republicans Debate Again Tonight. Trump's Leading. Here's What Might be Wrong.

When it comes to political debates, few rise to the mark of the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858.  The Republicans' Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas for the Democrats went at it, hammer and tong, in seven, three-hour debates and they were debating nothing less than the future of slavery in America.

The way the debates were structured is interesting. The first guy up spoke for 60-minutes. His opponent spoke for 90-minutes. Then the first guy got a 30-minute rebuttal. As the incumbent, Douglas got to open in four of the debates.

Those were debates.  Issues discussed and argued at length. You've got to believe something to be able to effectively discuss it for 90-minutes. You have to have a message that's forceful and effective.

When I was in school students had to recite a quota of lines of poetry or prose. The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service was popular with the boys because it was vivid, easy to remember and quite long.

Today's debates are a pale shadow of what we used to do in high school. Hell, there's airtime involved. Nobody gets to talk for more than a couple of minutes just enough to recite a few talking points, parry an opponent's attack and, if lucky, stick him with a quick thrust you hope the folks at home will remember.

These modern debates aren't really debates at all. There's no time for meaningful discussion of ideas.  No time to convey to the electorate why they should support you and your vision, not the other candidate's. It's all about zingers, the rhetorical equivalent of spitballs. Sarah Palin managed to write hers on the palm of her hand.

And that, kids, is why people like Donald Trump can emerge victorious in the Republican debates. In fact that's why all but one or two of them are spared the humiliation of having to reveal they don't have ideas in their heads at all, just bullet points memorized.

Okay, so we've got the realities of television and audiences with the attention span of ruminants but why can't we at least give them 15 or 20-minutes because there's nothing better to expose the idiots, to cull the herd. Can you imagine what would have happened if Sarah Palin was told to say something, anything, coherent for 20-minutes without notes? She would have self-destructed at a podium on live TV. If she had to be capable of meeting that standard, McCain would never have considered her.

But it is what it is which is why most of the people at these debates are really just sideshow hustlers, carnies. And this is how the Republicans will choose their leader.


Toby said...

It's also the way Canada chooses its leaders.

Purple library guy said...

With that as the root cause for Trump's ascendance, I see a couple of proximate causes. On one hand, Trump is the guy willing to say pretty much straight out all the nasty stuff the other would-be leaders are saying in code, so he panders much more effectively to the prejudices they all want to trigger. Rather than sounding like a stuffed shirt hoping for the radio crazies like Limbaugh to recommend him, he sounds like one of the radio crazies themselves . . . which is to say, to the Republican base, comforting and familiar.
On the other hand, on all the other issues, the stuff not about immigration or whatever, Trump's positions seem to be more or less random; he says whatever he feels like saying. This has been seized on by his critics as a liability. But the thing is, that makes his policies on average better than his opponents', because the Republican party for a long time now has systematically worked to make its policies worse than random for most voters. This is why Krugman has pointed to certain policies of Trump's as being better than those, not only than his republican opponents, but better than the Democrats'--they actually are, not because Trump has awesome policies, but because everyone in the US political system has worked so hard to make their policies actively bad.

Purple library guy said...

Side note: I have a fondness for "The Cremation of Sam McGee". I like the rhythm and the punchline.

Anonymous said...

My father could recite "The Cremation of Sam McGee" from beginning to finish. He passed in 1996 at the age of 78. I miss hearing him and his last words after finishing would be, "and what is the punch line"?, directed at the younger ones in the gathering.

Anonymous said...

The above is from me, Anyong.