By Bob Whitcomb in the Province Journal
My, but our presidential candidates are boring! I had further experience of this on June 28 while trapped in my (American-made but high gas-mileage) car for several hours listening to the radio.
On the radio was a television debate at Howard University among the Democratic candidates. They were just as bad as the Republicans. With the occasional eccentric exception of former (and elderly) Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel and Congressman (and former mayor of a bankrupt Cleveland) Dennis Kucinich, just about all the answers were blather -- conventional wisdom wrapped in cliché and tightly stage-managed by advisers. And, of course, there was plenty of pandering to real or perceived interest groups.
There were virtually no details to any of their "plans." The main effort was to put across their purportedly pleasant "personalities." Their success in this quest was variable. Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden, for example, still came across as a narcissistic windbag. But the general mission was to achieve a telegenic robotdom.
One way was to appeal with maximum effect to the African-American audience, given Howard's history as a college created to educate same in the days of segregation. The candidates took great pains to avoid saying anything that might clash with what they thought was the consensus of the "black community." It will be fun to see how well they maintain this with the simultaneous pressures to appeal to both that group (usually defined as monolithic) and the Hispanic "community," especially regarding the immigration issue.
In any event, we mostly got custard.
Is this because we're boring too -- that we don't want to hear anything interesting from our candidates? It might scare us? Or is it because the speed, vengefulness or just ratings-driven amorality of many media people, especially on talk radio, cable TV and the blogs -- make the candidates all fearful of saying something new and interesting?
In all of this, the increasingly politically lazy, short-attention-spanned public is more to blame than anybody else.
I might have hope if the Internet, cell phones, iPods and iPhones had not come along to doom what's left of developed thought.
Meanwhile, most politicians these days are very bad writers, and thus troops of speechwriters are brought in to cook up their dreck for public delivery. So it is just as difficult to get a sense of the candidates through "their" (generally ghost-written) writing as it is via the debates.
An exception is Barack Obama, who has written graceful and emotionally honest things, apparently all by his lonesome, though I don't expect much more now that he's openly running for president and might worry about offending some major voting group or fund-raiser. (However, intriguingly, he has said that he might raise defense spending.)
Obama's major mission now will be to keep such signs of real personhood under wraps. In any event, the rumor is true: The Illinois senator is clearly a much better poet than Jimmy Carter.
After listening to the increasingly tedious debate on a very dark road, and after much dangerous dial-turning in a high-speed traffic jam in New Haven, I found myself listening to the right-wing talk-show hostess Laura Ingraham. Her views were predictable, too, but at least she had the good sense to intersperse her remarks with some nice old songs that made me feel for a while I was cruising up the Connecticut Turnpike in the mid-'50s. The presidential debates, especially with the crowded pre-primaries flock, would be much easier to take with such musical interludes.
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Watching John McCain's campaign implosion has been made sadder by how he has felt compelled to grovel to those in the Republican Party he didn't agree with, and whom he felt played dirty tricks on him in the 2000 primary races. And now, after a brief flirtation, they have abandoned him for younger, more malleable flesh.