Thursday, October 9, 2008

Star Power

This was not a good morning for reading Truthdig. Things started with Scott Ritter's "Third Party Blues" report, which laid out in well-argued assertions how little difference there really was between Barack Obama and John McCain. From there I progressed to Marie Cocco's column, which developed a similar theme on the proposition that the "stars" of Tuesday night's debate were neither of the candidates but those who asked the questions. Given the number of questions that had been submitted and the intense winnowing that had to take place to fit the limitations of a ninety-minute debate, it is hard to tell how representative those questioners dubbed by Cocco as "the stars of this show" really were. (I am even cynical enough to believe that the questioners we saw on the stage were chosen as much for the telegenic symbolism of their identity as for the questions they posed, if not more so.) The real message of Cocco's column, however, is that, when confronted with solid, straightforward questions that cut to the bone of why many of us cannot sleep at night any more, both candidates responded with the usual evasive political rhetoric, never answering a simple question with a simple answer (and, as moderator Tom Brokaw kept observing, always taking excessive time to do so). If this was not already obvious as the debate proceeded, Brokaw made it so by trying to end with a yes-or-no question, which neither candidate answered accordingly.

Both candidates blew it. Anyone who still believed that McCain was the "straight talk" candidate was given a serious reality check by his talking about anything other than a straight answer. Obama was no better, always talking up the points that differentiated him from McCain but never driving home any of those points as a "difference that made a difference." Thus, I find myself forced to agree thoroughly (and dejectedly) with the conclusion of Ritter's extended analysis: "The two-party system is failing in America." Perhaps it has failed beyond a point of recovery. What may be worse is that, as I suggested yesterday, through a bizarre mechanism of Social Darwinism, we have evolved into a culture that wanted it to fail (back when we thought we would never have to pay the piper). This brings me back to Slavoj Žižek's punch line: "Dangerous times are coming." I would only want to take issue with his use of tense: Dangerous times are here!

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