Tonight Barack Obama and Mitt Romney head into round 2 of the Great Debates of 2012. I am an engaged voter who reads information from all sides and prides myself on making informed decisions. In high school I was an award-winning Lincoln-Douglas debater. And no, I was not super cool. What makes you ask that?
Yet I cannot bring myself to watch the debates. Once upon a time they served the venerable function of allowing the public the opportunity to see/hear/read about the candidates in a format that compared and contrasted their views, direct from the horses’ mouths. A hundred years ago it may have been a voter’s only opportunity to do so before the invention and wide use of radio. Hell before the very late 1800s I doubt most Americans even knew what the candidates looked like outside of pencil sketches. Now all we do is talk about widow’s peaks and Eddie Munster. And those delightful workout photos!
But today the magic of technology and the 24 hour news cycle means we are inundated with candidate information constantly. It’s to the point that there are videos of Mitt Romney debating himself on his flip-floppy issues. I think I know what he eats for lunch before he does. We have gone from one extreme to the other- from minimal information about our candidates to too much.
The debates frankly aren’t for people like me who consume media constantly and already have our minds made up. They are for the increasingly rare undecided voter who believes he or she will see something in one of these guys that will sway their vote. It could be anything from a policy statement to a hand gesture that makes this voter feel comfortable with one or the other.
Most importantly, they are increasingly an act of theatre. You only need to skim the memorandum of understanding released yesterday by Time Magazine to see that. The campaigns are less about the candidates themselves and their positions, and more about the carefully constructed narrative surrounding both Obama and Romney. Not long ago debates were meant to pierce the veil and allow the public to see the candidates for who they are*, but now they are just one more slog through rhetoric and even outright lies. The extraordinary mendacity of Romney during the last debate and the media still declaring him the “winner” is one unsettling example of this.
I much prefer to read the post-debate analysis, work through websites like factcheck.org and Washington Post’s fact checker to see who lied and to what extent. It nauseates me that Romney has seen a bump from the first debate, where he lied so hard I thought his eyes would pop out of his head. After the week-long convention extravaganzas, the months of primary campaigning and now the home stretch of the full presidential campaign, I just can’t take anymore. I want the commercials, the donation solicitation emails, the inflammatory comments on news articles to just stop. Maybe we should impose a two-week quiet period right before election day, where we can all meditate on our choices, clear our heads, take a deep breath and exercise our right to vote.
After all, the only thing in this election that isn’t out in the open are the choices I make in the voting booth on November 6th.
*None of this applies to Joe Biden. He is awesome and a national treasure. He is my spirit animal and he can laugh his ass off at Paul Ryan anytime he wants. Malarkey 2016!