Wednesday saw the first round of the United States presidential election debates, focussing on domestic policy. The general consensus seems to be that Barack Obama lost. Mitt Romney has gained popularity among voters due to his unexpectedly adroit and measured performance. Obama is being heavily criticised for, among other supposed failings, being “slow, dry and cautious,” and “looking down.” A huge number of people underestimated Mitt Romney’s skill as a rhetorician, as a debater and as a politician. In wilfully entering into the trap of dismissing the Republicans and their leader as nothing more than fall-guys for President Obama to practice his comedy routines on, the Democrats gave away ground to a man who, despite people’s best efforts to paint him as such, is no political slouch.
The Republican party have had a bad time of it over the past few years. With the timeless absurdity of this most recent leadership race, and the spectre of George W. Bush’s presidency still hanging over them – not to mention the endlessly banal Tea “Party” and Birther movements – they have become mocked and howled down by pretty much anyone apart from their own supporters. For the most part, this is fully deserved – Rick Perry’s self-approved messages on strength, faith, and the American addiction to “forn orl” (foreign oil); and more recently Mitt Romney’s slur on the 47% of Americans who are not for him “to worry about” are just two of numerous examples of gruesome opinions being rightly and robustly derided by just about anyone with a conscience.
However, the incompetence of the Republican party has taken on an almost mythical status, and this is a very dangerous position for not only the Democrats, but for anyone who has any form of allegiance to the Democratic party or ideals, American or otherwise. This is because people believe myths. It is comforting, safe and requires very little thought or effort on the part of the general public. For every gaffe or garbled public appearance by the Republicans, there is a ready-made counterstatement for those that support the Democrats which demands little or no critical thinking, leading to complacency on Obama and his supporters’ part. The Obama camp do seem to follow him blindly. It is patently wrong to suggest that they are people who “believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it,” but not unfounded to suggest that they “will vote for the President no matter what.” (Quotes by Mitt Romney)
The only way for those who have gained our support to remain worthy of it is if we continue to criticise them and not hold them up as messiahs and heros. The relative silence on twitter and the lack of hastily prepared memes was telling – Obama’s supporters, and most of the rest of the interested world wanted little else but to see him tear Romney apart with his trademark Harvard swagger and collected wit and charm. The debate was not seen as a platform for discussion on domestic matters and the relative merits of each side’s policy. So with the general public demanding so little, how can we expect anything of substance? The palpable disappointment that Wednesday night’s debate had not ended up a fertile crop for internet “humourists” to score some cheap, easy political self-righteousness gave away the fundamental problem with televised political debate – in appealing to the lowest common denominator, authentic and questioning thought are stifled. Turning policies with such wide-ranging, complex roots and reach into an hour long sales-pitch trivialises the entire Presidential and Governmental process. And we are absolutely complicit in this – there is such hypocrisy in bemoaning the “spin” in politics when it is our intense scrutiny of the music choice and favourite drinks of politicians that drives them to spend so much time on their image – to the detriment of planning and policy.
It is a real shame that the fate of the United States of America, and by extension that of the rest of the world, might be so drastically changed due to this substance-less debate swaying those undecided voters who have no interest in the hard facts of national and international policy.