“An Incompatible Combination”

Ethan Gach

I write about comics, video games and American politics. I fear death above all things. Just below that is waking up in the morning to go to work. You can follow me on Twitter at @ethangach or at my blog, gamingvulture.tumblr.com. And though my opinions aren’t for hire, my virtue is.

Related Post Roulette

31 Responses

  1. Kimmi says:

    Obama’s one liner to Venezuela’s prime minister’s harague was priceless: “It was three hours long.” (I may have the time wrong. but it says exactly the right thing).Report

  2. Patrick Cahalan says:

    “And if television teaches us anything it’s that someone who can’t give a simple answer to a complex problem is probably radical and crazy. If they look the part, even better.”

    If there ever is to be any hope for democracy as a long term viable system of small-p progressive governance, this lesson needs to be unlearned. Indeed, people need to vociferously reject it as absurd.Report

  3. “Even worse, because something serious like national politics is being mixed with something completely unserious like primetime entertainment, there’s always the danger that people will confuse the two and give undue weight to what should normally be perceived as pure spectacle.”

    Well, yeah. Unfortunately, that ship has sailed. Neil Postman wrote about it years ago. It’s only gotten worse since then, of course. In the GOP, sloganeering and “looking presidential” has entirely displaced rational argumentation.Report

    • My critique is partly a response to re-reading Postman’s work of late.

      What I can’t wrap my mind around is why no one cares anymore. Perhaps the waters were muddied by one too many electrical luddites screaming about TV destroying culture, but it’s a shame that the ramifications of this whole project, which reaches its zenith with Fox New’s info-tainment, is seen and objected to just as much everwhere else on cable/network TV.

      C-SPAN just as much a culprint, but few people probably see it that way.Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        Yeah, I was gonna ask if you’d read Postman.

        Actually, I was going to first ask if your argument is that the medium is the message, but Postman was a student of McLuhan- he was just more direct in his critique of the media. It’s easy to mistake McLuhan for a devotee of the media, but he wasn’t. He was an old Catholic book learning man and, correctly, saw the electronic media as his enemy.Report

      • What I can’t wrap my mind around is why no one cares anymore.

        Well, because an entire generation-plus of people have been raised with the background, unexamined, corrosive view that the method of discourse on TV is the necessary & proper way to view politics.

        When Postman wrote “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, the GOP still had folks like Brent Scowcroft, Bob Dole, George Bush Sr., and Jack Kemp in their ranks– folks whose ideas could be criticized as mistaken or even poorly conceived, but they were ideas. There’s no one anywhere in the Republican Party who evinces any interest in policy– it’s all about crafting slogans to look good on TV, to the extent it’s about policy at all. I think that George Bush Jr. may well have viewed his dad as a wimp because Newsweek said so– even though Bush Sr. was, in reality, a war hero.Report

      • James K in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        I think it comes back to the rational irrationality I discussed in a previous post. At the end of the day no one person has any reason to care if they’re getting good information because one vote doesn’t make a difference.

        If true, we have a classic collective action problem though I’m not sure what the solution would be. It’s not like most candidates would be that interested in substantive debates, and I doubt most voters would be either.Report

    • BHO’s only qualification was “looking presidential.” Act as if.

      The debates are about nothing more, and that’s OK. On paper, Rick Perry is what the GOP really wants; in reality, he’s just too clumsy and creepy.

      In fact, I think Al Gore blew a gimme by acting unpresidential vs. Dubya, stalking him around the stage. He was clumsy and creepy. Which rather fits John Kerry, too, come to think of it. Dubya was the worst candidate in generations, except for the ones he beat.Report

      • BHO’s only qualification was “looking presidential.”

        That is false.

        See, e.g., http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2008/02/obama-actually.html

        I follow some issues pretty closely, and over and over again, Barack Obama kept popping up, doing really good substantive things. There he was, working for nuclear non-proliferation and securing loose stockpiles of conventional weapons, like shoulder-fired missiles. There he was again, passing what the Washington Post called “the strongest ethics legislation to emerge from Congress yet” — though not as strong as Obama would have liked. Look — he’s over there, passing a bill that created a searchable database of recipients of federal contracts and grants, proposing legislation on avian flu back when most people hadn’t even heard of it, working to make sure that soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan were screened for traumatic brain injury and to prevent homelessness among veterans, successfully fighting a proposal by the VA to reexamine all PTSD cases in which full benefits had been awarded, working to ban no-bid contracts in Katrina reconstruction, and introducing legislation to criminalize deceptive political tactics and voter intimidation. And there he was again, introducing a tech plan …


  4. Jaybird says:

    “I AM PAYING FOR THIS MICROPHONE, MR. GREEN!” was a pretty decent unscripted moment. It definitely resulted in a nomination being won. It probably resulted in an election being won. (It might have resulted in two.)

    If you’ve never seen it, check it out.Report

  5. DensityDuck says:

    I get what you’re saying about this all being scripted, but if you can’t even look good when you’re following a script then that’s a problem.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to DensityDuck says:

      I’d be cool with going back to radio.

      “Looking good” is no way to measure much of anything. Sounding good? Now we’re getting somewhere!Report

      • Ethan Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

        I was about to say something similar.

        “Look good,” is exactly the problem. Who cares how they look?

        And of course, with radio debates, you pay a LOT more attention to what they’re saying than how they appear.

        A conversational debate broadcast on the radio would probably be the best at extending the material to a mass audience without rendering it completely useless in the process.Report

        • Kimmi in reply to Ethan Gach says:

          knowing someone who has been asked to work phone sex lines, I doubt you’d be able to do much better than just grabbing up generic alphas.Report

          • E.C. Gach in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            I might be wrong by my understanding was that Nixon trounced Kennedy in cognitive terms. Was that a bad thing?Report

            • Tom Van Dyke in reply to E.C. Gach says:

              W/no TV, Nixon would have probably have been president in 1960, sez Salon. If you’re OK with that. Just checking.

              Me, I have no problem with looks and comportment being part of the equation. Little known factoid: GWashington had his uniforms tailored. There are many accounts of admiration at the striking leadership figure he cut.

              Because in the end, it’s not as much about wonkage or ideology as about the ability to lead—that is, get people to follow. Old Muttonhead was pretty awful tactically, and lost more battles than he won. Washington’s greatest accomplishment was keeping the army together long enough to outlast the British will.

              It’s easy to underestimate that. I think Obama’s a unique failure in that he has the trappings to lead, but a combination of ideology, intransigence and incompetence are too much to overcome. And I’ve re-examined the Carter record and find it not nearly as bad as common knowledge holds it to be, but the guy simply couldn’t lead.

              We are human beings afterall, a combination of mind and spirit, and we need our leaders to have visceral leadership qualities: it’s just not about book cleverness, it’s the Adlai Stevenson thing. Whether or not it should be that way, we must take human nature as we find it, hence my take here. A mush-mouthed, fat, dumpy bald dude just ain’t gonna swing it, all things being equal—and with what we’ve been trotting out for candidates, if there’s one great equalizer among them, it’s their mediocrity.

              I also think glibness–finding the right thing to say, whether it’s a witticism or a gentle Reaganesque putdown–is an indication of confidence, intelligence and good sense, the most important qualities for a leader, besides that visceral je ne sais quoi of a Washington, JFK, or that silver-tongued devil Bill Clinton.

              The funny thing is, in 2012, we might have an even match on all these things, and the content will actually be the thing that matters. Laissez les bons temps rouler!Report

  6. North says:

    What it boils down to me is that more information is better than less. Having debates provides more information (of various sorts) than not so I consider the debates useful even if only for the occasional unscripted moments or the subtext and body language of the debaters.Report

    • Ethan Gach in reply to North says:

      I’m not sure that “more information” is always better.

      In fact, there are many times when it becomes noise and buries the more important stuff in a sea of distraction. I would count body language and subtext as part of that unhelpful cacaphony.Report

      • North in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        Entirely possible. But still given the choice between more and less I’d opt for more. The more there is the harder it is for the political hacks to control it and the greater the odds that the truth will wriggle through.Report

    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to North says:

      It’s definitely the case nowadays that most candidates can’t follow their own damn script as it is.Report

  7. NoPublic says:

    I’d love it if these were actually unscripted debates. Each candidate asks questions of the other. Moderator only there to ring the buzzer on speechifying in the form of a question and to regulate time limits. *Then* you’d actually know what these hair balls are made of.Report

    • Ethan Gach in reply to NoPublic says:

      Or no time limits, and let the candidates regulate themselves. Especially in a Republican debate.

      Romney asking Cooper to get Perry put back in his place? Such dependence!Report

    • trizzlor in reply to NoPublic says:

      That would be tough to do with so many candidates at once, but since we’ve already borrowing from sports, why not a round-robin: two candidates, no moderator, one hour. Host two two-hour sessions a week and you can get every pair in two months (call it the 2-2-2 plan). Of course, without moderators there’s a risk that ideas outside the party dogma wouldn’t be addressed at all; but maybe that’s okay for a primary.Report

  8. Creon Critic says:

    No one bothers to fact-check the candidates during debates or even afterward in a post-game follow-up, because no one really cares.

    I suggest Politifact. Also, I recall Anderson Cooper – probably the night after – doing some post-debate fact-checking. Including correcting a mistake he made, regarding the 47% who don’t pay federal income tax, he had said in the debate pay no tax. I can’t vouch for the other debate hosts.

    Like North, I think more information is preferable to less information. The public will use information as it will. Some will look deeper into issues, using the debate as a jumping off point to visit campaign websites and such, while others will judge haircuts, and whether or no the prospective president would be good to have beers with. Such is democracy.

    Also, (at 2:26) C-span is the culprit for what now?Report

    • E.C. Gach in reply to Creon Critic says:

      Of making Congressional proceedings concerned about the camera. The building is for deliberative negotiation and action, not tel-evangelizing to one’s base or the media.Report

  9. James K says:

    We’re actually just about to enter the election campaign proper in New Zealand. There will be a few debates (there will probably be 2-3 with the PM vs. the leader of the opposition, and then 1-2 with the minor party leaders.

    Oh well, at least we only have to put up with it for 4 weeks.Report