16 October 2008
No Intellectual Peacocks In This Debate
Luckily, I dozed off during the closing statements of the debate, so I avoided what must have been a painful night for the political pundits who were waiting with baited breath to dissect this last presidential debate. Because there was really nothing John McCain could do, short of beating Barack Obama in the head with a baseball bat, that would change the course of this election.
Actually, the main thing that was running through my mind just before I went to sleep was a burning question - who the hell runs CNN? And what do they have all those god dammed dials and charts and lines on the screen for?
That stuff was beyond distracting – do they think the kind of people who watch debates are video game junkies? If I was one of those live bloggers who posted comments to the web about the debate every two or three minutes, I would have sent fifty nasty emails to the network last night.
The thing that the pundits probably spent a lot of time telling you about is what those seismograph looking lines meant as the debate went on, as if every reaction you have as a human being is directly related to a substantive input. I will watch Sunday Night Football even if Detroit is playing the next worst team in the league because my old buddies John Madden and Al Micheals are calling the game.
Why? Because its the sound of their voices that I want to hear, a pleasing and familiar combination that lulls me to sleep on the very same couch I fell asleep on last night.
When I woke up, the actual debate was being played again. As I lay on the couch, gathering myself so I could sleep in an actual bed, I thought about the voices of Barack Obama and John McCain that were piercing my semi-consciousness, and something my best buddy had said after the last debate.
"Bill Clinton is probably the best debater ever-"
"Bill Clinton," I said to him that day, "has been arguing his whole life. It was a survival mechanism."
While I listened to the voices of Obama and McCain with my eyes shut, repeating words and phrases I'd originally heard a couple of hours before, I recreated their personalities in my mind's eye to match the images their inflections and intonations suggested. And then I compared them to Clinton, looking for a way to delineate the differences between the three of them in terms of their personal styles.
Obama sounded like some of the guys I grew up with, the kind of guy who had always drawn attention because of his "otherness" instead of any preternatural ability to speak to people. McCain reminded me of all the short guys I'd ever known, who had always had to do unnatural things to stand out in a crowd.
Clinton's draw has not been his looks, or his height, or his charm, but his intelligence. Maybe I know this because I am a small town native myself, but in the kind of place Clinton was from, where he didn't grow up in the biggest house, or have a black father, or six fingers, he was known as the kid who knows everything.
Obama, as we have seen time and time again, reluctantly displays his smarts. McCain doesn't seem to care whether you think he is a smart guy or not. But for a guy like Bill Clinton, it was being an intellectual peacock that made him stand out in a crowd, that got him in front of opportunities his mother never could have shown him, that garnered the awards, the fanfare, the presidency, and the women, starting with his wife.
As Obama's stammer and McCain's bluster invaded my thoughts, repeating many of the same talking points we've come to memorize over the last couple of months, hectoring each other over "Joe the Plumber", I wondered if there had really been anything of value in this last debate, other than the fact that John McCain had obviously practiced looking Obama directly in the eye.
"If I'm starting to think about Bill Clinton," I said to myself as I clicked the TV off, "probably not."