On October 3rd, we'll have our first Presidential Debate. Many of us act like it's a really big deal, but underneath we know it's not. My sense is that we'll all be pretty excited about the debate before it starts, and pretty bored with it by the time it's over. Then we'll all watch the usual talking heads dissect the minutia of the two candidates' predictable answers, and despite ourselves turn the channel to see if Jon Stewart has anything more interesting to say.
But why is it that we're bored already? That doesn't mean we're not nervous about the outcome of the election (we have every right to be nervous given the predilection of one political party for voter suppression, as well as their nefarious access to electronic voting machines); it just means that American politics itself has become so boring. It's boring because it's a huge amount of drama built around a very small conversation. In American politics today, so little can really happen...and conversely, so much can happen over so very little. When the Presidential "Debate Commission" -- made up only of Democratic and Republican operatives -- took the Presidential Debates out of the hands of the League of Women Voters several years ago, any chance of those debates actually covering a meaningful array of topics, much less a more meaningful array of candidates, went out the window.
I assume the mainstream journalists who'll be moderating the debates will ask just the right small questions, towing the line of the corporate driven political messaging. I'm sure we'll all just be sitting at the edge of our seats.
Politics is boring -- yet ironically enough, real democracy is exciting. If democracy itself - the real impulses of the American people -- actually inspired the political process, then I think we'd get some much more interesting answers because we'd be asking far more interesting questions. The candidates would be asked such things as:
"What is your feeling about the 23.1 percent child poverty rate in the United States -- among 35 developed nations of the world, second only to Romania?"
"Why is it that, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., "if we give it to the poor we call it a handout, but if we give it to the rich we call it a subsidy?"
"How, if my child doesn't get a decent education, can I expect that they'll ever have a chance to attain true prosperity, much less a job at all, in a competitive global economy?"
"Why are we just talking about tax rates-- rather than on how little money the average citizen is able to make period, and how little access they have to capital?"
"If college were free, wouldn't it actually help the economy by producing a more educated work force?"
"Explain to me again why a fire in my house elicits a 'We're coming to help you!' but cancer in my body elicits help only if I can pay for it?"
"How will we ever have peace in the world if we spend so much of our money on waging war and so comparatively little of it on waging peace?"
"What do you think about the fact that the United States has the highest incarceration rate of any nation in the world, or any nation in history?"
Or, "Given that our military defense expenditures, at $700 billion a year, are almost twice that spent by every other nation in the world combined, could it be argued that our defense budget has as much to do with feeding the military-industrial complex as it does with keeping America safe?"
Then the Presidential debates would be more than just the pabulum now being served up to the American people as meaningful political dialogue.
Until then, corporations will continue to define where the political parties can go, and the political parties will define where the debates can go. I hope that in the next chapter of American politics - the one that begins the day after this next election -- the people of the United States will say where we want to go.
And democracy, with all its grit and genuine glory, will have a chance.