Let me explain.
When I came to the US in the seventies, the news hour, or half hour, was sacred. If I couldn’t finish my dinner well ahead of it, I had to have it afterward, however hungry I was. I watched the news intently, with full attention. It deserved such attention because savvy newsmen like Dan Rather or Peter Jennings narrated world-wide events that merited our interest and thought. Then it all changed. News in major channels became a part of the entertainment division and news broadcasts started including ‘human-interest’ stories about well-trained seals or performing dogs that rarely merited any human interest.
A parallel depreciation has occurred in debates of presidential candidates and aspirants. You expect a forum that probes the problems of our country. You hope to hear of different ways to solve them. You look for new ideas and new policies. You will have none of that. You will have carefully patterned ‘entertainment’ instead.
Every time candidates open their mouth out flow the most hackneyed phrases and shopworn clichés. Liberty and leadership, economy and ‘exceptionalism,’ fast-growing government and slow-acting presidency – all the old peeves and new mantras are paraded with painful regularity. No matter what the question is, candidates quickly switch to a set piece, doubtless written by their aides and drummed into their heads by other aides. One doesn’t have to see the movie ‘Game Change’ to discover that candidates – of whom Sarah Palin is just the most egregious example – are too busy raising funds and poll status to lower their eyes to social, political or economic studies.
They are, frankly, ignoramuses, who will not be able to identify Ukraine, Uruguay or Uzbekistan on a map or name the president or prime minister of a major ally, let alone know the difference between presidential and ministerial forms of government. All they have are pat answers to some popular and predictable questions. Whatever issues moderators raise can only evoke well-rehearsed glib and giddy responses. It reminded me of college again: it was the dummies, who, instead of learning the subject, memorized set answers to expected questions and, facing a test, regurgitated.
I read newspapers and magazines. But I want to know more about the problems of the country. I want to learn about solutions, remedies, new and smart policies. None of that will happen in these presidential debates where trained performers will perform their inane acts unctuously and without shame.
No, I am not entertained. As Queen Victoria would have said, “We are not amused.”