Thursday, September 17, 2015

Debate Night

One thing most people can probably agree on about last night's Republican debate was that it was way too long. Three hours are a burden both for those watching and for those participating. I didn't watch the preliminary "kids' table" debate, but for anyone who did that added two more hours. I think two hours should be enough - for one debate. As for the candidates forced to stand there for three hours (some of them ignored for much of that time), one could almost feel sorry for them, if only any of them were at all sympathetic!

That they certainly are not, although some did distinguish themselves as moderately more rational and moderately more humane than some of the others. I'll leave it to professional political pundits to appoint winners and losers. The only winners I could see in the overall spectacle were the Democrats.

That said, I think there were occasional deviations into serious political discourse, moments when serious policy matters were being addressed in a reasonably serious way by at least some candidates. John Kasich remains fixated on the fetish of a balanced budget, but other than that he showed himself reasonably serious and worth listening to. Carly Fiorina said women really ridiculous things - like about not talking to Putin, but generally seemed to have at least a good knowledge of the the major issues. She also spoke eloquently about the evil organization that is Planned Parenthood and what it says about our character as a society. (The You Tube video to which she was apparently referring may have been this one: And, of course, she delivered one of the night's most memorable lines in rebuttal to Trump's earlier insulting comment about her face. Rand Paul also distinguished himself, notably in his critique of the so-called "war on drugs." In context, Jeb Bush's admission that he had smoked marijuana 40 years ago - instead of maybe making him seem more down to earth  - actually highlighted his privileged background in contrast to the multitudes incarcerated thanks to the so-called "war on drugs." 

Much of the evening was a combination of narcissism and fantasy. One particularly low point was the silly debate between Trump and Fiorina about how personally successful they had each been in business. Chris Christie called them on that, as something an unemployed worker would not care much about. But, of course, success as a capitalist is part of how those two define themselves. Another especially low point was Trump's continuing to link vaccines and autism. the two doctors on stage sort of rebutted him, but rather lamely, pathetically so given that this was an obvious opportunity for them to have used their professional expertise. Carson lamely said that numerous studies have shown no correlation, while Paul endorsed vaccines but qualified it by being "also for freedom." And then there was Marco Rubio, ruling out doing anything about climate change because such action would wreck our economy - as if climate change won't also wreck the economy for most people on the planet, except, of course, the very rich who will have the resources to weather the storm. Or was that his point - that the economy he cares so much about is supposed to be mainly just for the benefit of the very rich, whose interests must therefore always be given precedence over those of everyone else?

During the breaks in the debate, I was paging thought the latest issue of The Princeton Alumni Weekly, which contains a short article called "Politics: Swaying Voters." A brief commentary on some academic work on the subject of voters and elections, it seemed a fitting commentary on the current campaign.


The article  points out how voters "select politicians based on their own loyalties to political party, religious belief, or racial identity, and justify their picks by convincing themselves that those candidates were the ones best aligned with their political views." Moreover, "being politically informed did not necessarily improve people’s accuracy. ... Those who are well versed in politics ... are more likely to know the party line and feel the need to promote it." The piece ends with this judgment from one of the professors whose work is quoted in the article: "The romantic vision of thoughtful democratic participation is largely mythical... “Democracy must be defended some other way, if it is to be defended at all.”

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