The US presidential beauty contest

October 6, 2012

The good news in the 2012 US presidential election is that there are some decent candidates running on platforms that address serious issues, people like Jill Stein of the Green Party and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party. The bad news is that most of the American electorate will not even be aware of these people, much less know what they stand for. And that, it seems, is the primary function of the nationally televised  presidential debates–to focus attention, not on, but away from the real alternatives to the status quo in US politics. How else to explain the absence of all third-party candidates from the debates and the lack of any real discussion of the main issues facing the country or the planet today: environmental disaster and nuclear war? As a result of these debates, and the discussion and analysis they receive in the mainstream media, the choice that Americans are left with, as Noam Chomsky points out in this article in Truthout, is between two factions of the business party that present slightly different views on how enthusiastically the lemmings (that’s us) should march toward the cliff. In this insightful article in the Guardian, Glenn Greenwald provides a very similar analysis. But for a very instructive example of just how differently these debates can be, and have been, interpreted by some in the US media, take a look at this article by Paul Jenkins, editor of something called the Anchorage Daily planet.

The format for the next debate is a town hall meeting, but it might be more appropriate to have the candidates appear in their swimsuits or evening gowns, for as Ian Buruma, has correctly noted, these “debates” are little more than a beauty contest and an opportunity for the networks to rake in some major advertising revenue. And just imagine how much more the networks could earn if Obama and Romney showed up for the “debate” in their speedos. 

Here is a related video from CNN of some of the ridiculously superficial but defining moments in previous presidential debates. The suggestion in this montage is that perspiration cost Nixon the election against Kennedy, that Dukakis lost the election against Bush Sr. because he appeared cool when he should have been agitated, and that Gore lost the election against Bush Jr. because he sighed instead of appearing cool. 


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