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Opinion

So That Debate Was a Total Joke

Stephen Markley

9:18 AM CDT, October 4, 2012

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To plug myself, following my adventure at a Republican presidential debate, I wrote in “The Great Dysmorphia”:

“If a presidential debate is pure farce than the media coverage is farce on top of farce—69ing farce.”

You don’t have to be on mushrooms to see how that insight applies to the first debate of the general election.

As far as Mitt Romney “winning” the debate goes, I am not so deluded as to think that President Obama did not come off as listless and uninterested during his answers while Romney appeared plucky and eager to take it to the president at every opportunity. As far as debates-as-optics-contests go I’ll fully admit Romney took the night as long as you didn’t check on anything he said.

For instance, the first third of the night was spent haggling over his proposed tax cut, which, you barely need the internet to understand, will indeed cost $5 trillion and vastly, incredibly, disproportionately favor the wealthy. Indeed, he hasn’t outlined what tax loopholes he would close, and the president was correct in pointing out that it will either blow up the deficit or require extreme cuts or burdens elsewhere.

Romney’s rebuttal to this totally evident, universally acknowledged truth was, “Nope. No, it won’t.”

Similarly with Romney’s plan to cover pre-existing conditions, you barely have to understand how to use a spoon to know that it’s crap and it won’t, and if he had a plan to force insurers to cover pre-existing conditions, it would require the Obamacare mandate and the Obamacare subisidies.

Romney’s rebuttal to this was, “Nope. It works. Don’t worry about it.”

I could go on, but by appearing blithely confident in his totally fictitious, inscrutable and unworkable policy positions, he clearly frustrated the president and won the night. 

More importantly, the debate format was so appallingly dumbed down and moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS so feckless and insipid, it’s hard to see how anyone benefited from anything said during the entire course of the night.

It’s not just that in the modern era a “moderator” should presumably have facts on hand if a candidate is bold enough to make the claim that, to use one example, Frank-Dodd financial reform closed down 122 “community and small” banks and is a “kiss to big New York banks.” What a total innovation it would be for the moderator to say, “Uh, your five biggest contributors are major Wall Street banks, so explain what Frank-Dodd does that closed those community banks and how it aids the larger firms. Go.”

The media has focused on how the lump of narcotized clay that was Jim Lehrer was “steam-rolled” by the two candidates. However, what’s worse than how ill-prepared he was for moderating a debate in the age of the post-truth campaign, were his questions. What Lehrer asked the candidates should have embarrassed a ninth-grader taking his first civics class. With the two men running for control of the free world in front of him, here’s just a few of the weighty questions Lehrer posed:

• “What is your view about the level of federal regulation of the economy right now? Is there too much? And in your case, Mr. President, is there — should there be more?”

• “Governor Romney. You want it repealed. You want the Affordable Care Act repealed. Why?”

• “Mr. President, do you believe there's a fundamental difference between the two of you as to how you view the mission of the federal government?”

• “Does the federal government have a responsibility to improve the quality of public education in America?” 

• “Many of the legislative functions of the federal government right now are in a state of paralysis as a result of partisan gridlock. If elected, in your case, if re-elected, in your case, what would you do about that?”

I’m sorry—I wasn’t aware that my Great Aunt Edna, whose only political information comes from “Dancing with the Stars”, was moderating presidential debates now. I thought we only let adults vote in this country and not eight-year-olds who need questions like: “Government. Good? Medium-good? Not-so-good? Your thoughts.” 

To say that just about anyone I follow on Twitter could have asked more interesting, specific and important questions than Lehrer is the understatement of the election. I won’t even begin to start frothing at the mouth about how Lehrer never breathed a word about climate change, immigration, reproductive rights, or any of the other myriad topics that got sucked into a vortex of bullshit and never appeared.

Here’s a wacky innovation: instead of trotting out old, information-free white men to run debates how about we get actual, you know, policy experts to come out and grill candidates? Someone who could call Romney on every fictitious, nonsense answer he gave and then turn to Obama and say, “Mr. President, the financial crisis started in housing and so far your housing policies have been an abject failure. We have about a decade worth of foreclosures still to sort through, what would you do about housing in a second term?”

If you’re just going to waste everyone’s time by getting in front of candidates and giving them an excuse to recite pablum from their stump speeches, what the motherf***ing f*** is the point of having a debate?