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After the Debates, Who Will Be Voted Off the Island?

During the presidential debates, little of actual American reality will be on display as is humanly possible.
 
 
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With that jutting jaw of steel, think of him as the next Clark Kent, hence also Superman, promising to save our world (don’t worry about just how).  Opposite him, imagine Chris Pine as James T. Kirk, commander of the rebooted USS Enterprise, promising (repeatedly) to boldly go where no man has gone before.  Or call it Romney v. Obama in “The Debates,” and imagine them as what they are: two actors preparing to take on monumental TV roles this October.  Both of them, like the performers they have to be in the coming productions that are by now essential to the entertainment spectacle of an American presidential campaign, have been rehearsing for months.  They have conducted numerous “mock debates” in which Ohio Senator Rob Portman plays Obama for Romney (as he did in 2008 for John McCain), and Senator John Kerry -- the Romney of the 2004 campaign -- appropriately plays Romney for Team Obama.

For these crucial roles, they must both become card-carrying deficit-slashers, tax cutters, retarders of government growth, job creators, preservers of Medicare, national-security funders par excellence, fierce defenders of Israel, and men ready to do whatever must be done to prevent Iran from going nuclear. They must, that is, become perfect fictions.  And though the debates are still upcoming, both presidential candidates recently had an out-of-town preview on “60 Minutes,” where, interviewed separately, each confirmed one crucial thing: that it’s possible to spend a great deal of time on TV and tell an audience almost nothing.

The key issues in what passes for American political debate are simple enough: Which performer will flub his lines?  Who will commit the most memorable “gaffe”?  Who is most “believable” or looks most "presidential"?  Which one would you most want to have a beer with?  Which do you feel “understands” your problems best?  The audiences for the three presidential debates will be astronomical, reaching into the many tens of millions -- the second debate in the 2008 campaign drew 63.2 million viewers -- which means that this will be a “reality” show of the highest order.  In the end, one of the two men will get evicted from the (White) House, voted off the island that is Washington.

This guarantees, of course, that as little of actual American reality will be on display as is humanly possible.  For some tough talk about those American realities, you would have to turn off that TV and turn to National Priority Project’s Mattea Kramer who offers “ a guide to the presidential debates you won’t hear” -- exactly the subjects that anyone interested in the future of this country would have to discuss.

 Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. He is the author of, most recently, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books, 2014).

 

 
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