Friday, October 12, 2012

The difference between 1858 and 2012

Biden Rattles Ryan. Night of Withering Ripostes. Passion Play. The Yin and Yang Debate. Notice anything missing from these headlines by our biggest news organizations? How about any semblance of substance. Here's Time's Joe Klein opening take on the Biden-Ryan debate last night: "This was a fine, fascinating, energetic debate. Joe Biden won — certainly on the substance, although he lost a bit on the body language. His frustrated smiles, head shakes, etc., etc., will become a Republican talking point and influence the post-game evaluations, even if they were sort of justified." Can you imagine such a content-free review -- one with so much focus on the "optics" -- for any one of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858? Trust me -- I make no plea to return to the 19th century. And granted, neither Biden nor Ryan got anywhere near the elegance or power of Lincoln's "House Divided" soliloquy. Still, it is shocking how the concept of political seriousness has withered on proverbial the vine in the Third American Century. Modern presidential debates have become little more than the political version of American Idol. Given that sad state of affairs and our evident preference for entertainment over ideas, is it any surprise that the criticism of Obama's "bad" debate performance last week is almost entirely about style rather than substance? And never mind that the fate of the nation, and perhaps the world, will rest in the hands of the man who occupies the Oval Office for the next four years. Both Lincoln and Douglas -- not to mention the Founding Fathers -- are probably spinning in their graves.

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