WASHINGTON, D.C. - Dear readers, I have an ethical dilemma. Or maybe it’s just a conflict with in my own vanity and pomposity. Whatever.
The issue is that I really don’t want to help contribute to or further enable a pernicious aspect of American elections epitomized by the Fox News debate. Writing a “straight” news analysis or commentary would be doing just that – legitimizing what every sane person on the planet knows is an idiotic way to pick a leader: a pseudo-debate between virtually random Republicans 15 months before the general election. This is the civic version of a delusional episode — kind of fascinating to watch but pathetic and unhealthy.
Satire is an effective and cathartic response to tonight’s reality TV programming. Even though, ironically, Jon Stewart chose tonight to sign off, there are plenty of other skilled professionals with a license to skewer. I hate to recommend that you abandon me here, but, honestly, go to YouTube for the best takedowns of this weird spectacle.
I am probably violating some canon of journalism by not praising any and all high profile, national debates as important civic moments.
But I suggest that the significant story here is that having a circus act like this more than a year before the election is a symptom of a seriously unhealthy process: It drains the process of dignity; it brings out the very worst in politicians and the political press corps; and it further subordinates the dull business of government to the sport and spectacle of campaigning.
The length of campaigns in America is bizarre compared to every other democracy in the world. This year’s election in Canada will last 11 weeks and is the longest in its history. Israel and the United Kingdom had elections this year that took about six weeks. They worked just fine.
The interminable length of our campaigns, in my book, is a corruption of our founding ideals and a dire systematic problem that needs reforming, not cheerleading.
I am not sure what the argument for long campaigns is. The current process wasn’t intentionally designed; it was spawned by the unintended consequences of various attempted reforms and accidents. I also can’t imagine a strong case that tonight’s debate, in August 2015, is good for the Republic. Maybe the defense is that more exposure to civic “discourse” is intrinsically good and educative. There can never be too much scrutiny of potential presidents.
Well, based on the historically low trust Americans have in government, it isn’t working. Donald Trump’s political delinquent act and two rounds of set piece orations by 17 wannabes won’t help. Tonight, the macro is more important than the micro, and I encourage that perspective.
I’ll sully my ethical purity briefly for a few observations:
Finally, I can’t imagine that Hillary Clinton didn’t have a lot of fun tonight. I think the rest of us would prefer that the whole campaign hibernate until, I don’t know, Labor Day 2016. That seems like plenty of time to pick a winner.