"Buddhist" Blogging, or The Democratic Debate Made Me Sad

11/16/2007 01:06 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It's a cliché to compare political debates to beauty pageants, but it's still the best analogy we've got. Hey, look! Who will become the Jon Benet Ramsey of the Democratic Party, offered in sacrifice to the media and the GOP? Remember, it ain't over until Bert Parks sings.

I don't think I would make the claim that I'm a Buddhist, although I follow a Buddhist practice. And I wrote a piece for the Buddhist magazine Tricycle this month. It's about trying to reconcile the blogging life with principles like right speech and the search for equanimity. (Spoiler alert: It can't be done, at least not perfectly and not by me.)

One thing that spiritual practices provide is a reminder to look beneath your own surface emotions to see what lies beneath. I tried doing that last night as I watched the Democratic debate, and here's what I found beneath my anger at Wolf Blitzer's fatuousness and the calculations of the politicians: sadness.

Yep. The debate made me sad, for reasons that have also become clichés. Needless death and suffering from wars overseas and inadequate healthcare at home. The future of the planet held hostage to corporate greed. Polls show that the American people have come to the right conclusions. They want to stop the war, reverse global warming, feed the hungry, and provide medical care for everyone. But nobody speaks to those desires, and probably nobody will.

(On the medical front, my health-wonk side says that Obama is right to resist mandates. Clinton's boast that she provides 'coverage for all' is only true in the sense that she would punish anyone who doesn't pay usurious rates to private companies for healthcare.)

The potential leaders of the most powerful nation in the Free World continue to jump through hoops set up by banal television producers. "We'll show you what a photo op looks like," says Blitzer, forcing the candidates to parade onto the stage and stand around awkwardly.

That's the swimsuit competition.

Then Blitzer makes the candidates answer "yes" or "no" to slanted questions. (We now know that he and his panel don't like drivers' licenses for immigrants and do like "merit pay for teachers" - whatever they imagine that to be. But who cares what they like or don't like?)

That's the "my dreams and aspirations" competition.

Then the candidates are asked to perch uncomfortably in big chairs and listen to real voters. But they have to jump up like trained monkeys to answer each question.

That's the "talent" competition.

What's next? Demanding that they each sing a chorus of "You'll Never Walk Alone"?

Sad, sad, sad.

There's no leader in sight who can tap the public's yearning for change, from the look of things. Hillary recites stilted, scripted lines about "asbestos pantsuits" and her supporters cheer accordingly. (And when did the idea that politics is too beholden to corporate interests become a Republican talking point?)

Edwards tries to tap the frustrations of the people, but he forces his delivery. (Whether that's a result of his own style or the fact that he's been marginalized by debate moderators is hard to tell.) For all the power in his "metacampaign," Obama is academic and distant - someone compared him to Adlai Stevenson, and that's about right. (I agree with those who say Joe Biden was the most refreshingly unscripted - again - but his foreign policy is troublesome.)

Who will bring all of this sorrow to an end? Not the hungry, yearning, craving individuals who crowded the stage in Las Vegas last night. Their self-promoting sales pitches reminded me of one of my favorite song titles, by country great Vern Gosdin: "Nobody calls from Vegas just to say hello."

Hillary will probably be the candidate. Her campaign advisor's firm will continue to represent a litany of ethically-challenged corporations. Her triangulating candidacy will most likely end up on the last train to Kerryville, shot down by its own overcalculation. Or else she'll squeak through and DC insiders will rule once again.

The Buddhist outlook says to reduce suffering in any way you can. That includes supporting the course of action - or the candidate - that will inflict the least pain on the world, if you think that serves the greater good. Will it? Let's see.

Buddhism also suggests you remain objective toward your own feelings, watching them with detachment and compassion. But frankly, I'm not that great a Buddhist. And, at least today, the whole damned spectacle just makes me sad.


(The Tricycle article is here, but it's easier to read if you spring seven bucks for the magazine. It's the edition that says "Confessions of a Buddhist Blogger" in the upper right ...)