Initially, I ascribed my extreme disinterest in the vice presidential debate to my generation’s wan attention span. It was a terrifying moment, suddenly faced with the possibility that the overbearing Tipper Gores of the world were right — that music videos and the Mario Brothers actually had destroyed democracy in a roundabout way.
But no, upon feeling that ol’ existential dread creep up, I knew that Dee Snider was off the hook, and not just in the sense usually accompanied by rock-horns.
Between Sarah Palin acting like a tourist brochure from the Mayberry Chamber of Commerce and Joe Biden portraying our economy as having been brought to its knees by John McCain’s lone, bloodstained votin’ arm, it occurred to me that the evening’s proceedings would be less than enlightening.
I hate to sound like a defeatist, or willfully ignorant, and at a time when Americans are either fervently uninformed or cynically uninvolved, we don’t need one more person saying none of it matters. But kids, I don’t know what we’re supposed to be getting out of this.
The claim is, with the nation at stake, the debate — any debate — is inherently important because it can change voters’ perceptions and swing the election on its results. The truth? Everyone I know who follows politics has already decided who they’ll vote for come November. Watching the debate is more for the communal slandering of the other candidate than it is for informing a decision.
Further, being an Independent in this country is misleading. Rather, you become a default Republican or default Democrat, depending on which party patronizes, ignores or terrifies you the least.
So when a debate rolls around, there will be the claim of importance; there will be talk of civic duty. There will be the assumption that you’re staying informed. But “importance” suggests a potential shift in a state of flux, not a foregone conclusion. Staying informed and watching the debate are not the same things.
A passing familiarity with both candidates’ talking points reveals that a debate, far from an insightful argument about policy, is in fact a recital, which, like all recitals, is for the benefit of the parents (read: us): an opportunity to take pictures, glance at watches, clap when their kid does something and, most importantly, feel like they’re involved in their kids’ lives (read: the country’s future).
But rarely, in a child’s life or a nation’s, do such insular moments equate to anything more than empty pageantry. Real life happens offstage; real politics happen in incidents.
Dukakis rides a tank, Bob Dole careens off a stage, Howard Dean has a red-faced meltdown. These are what seem to truly motivate the American voter. You may have good reasons for casting your ballot the way you do, but rest assured, there are far more out there, the swing votes that will decide this election, that are biding their time.
Like two geriatric Muppets in the balcony, they’re waiting for a gaff, a brutal smear campaign, a runny nose, an accidental cat-stomping, anything they can take as a cue to shut their brains off and start forming sentences that begin with “They are unfit to lead because .”
For what has the modern debate garnered us? Since they hold no new content outside of rote party lines, one would assume that this is how America truly comes to know the candidates, to see the glints of intellect and shimmers of personality underneath the standard issue dour serious-face that becoming president is all about.
But there are two kinds of candidates: career politicians, who, by virtue of their bottled charisma or superhuman blandness, are dissembling; or endearing backwoods morons, whose antiquated views and folksy charm score big because much of America is acting like the country is one, big educational pioneer village.
Given these options, poise and articulation have become undesirable qualities in a candidate.
People vote for personalities instead of policies. That’s why we’ve had someone in the White House for eight years who can’t open their mouth without spawning a broken English novelty calendar. Debates are a courtesy for people who vote arbitrarily.
Ryan Nowell is a senior English major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.