Sean Davis examines the most recent GOP debate and calls it for what it was: flash over substance.
I say politics is the entertainment branch of industry, and government is what we need. We have a diverse population in the United States, with all kinds of different needs that have to be taken care of. That is the righteous function of government. Politics is bullsh*t [sic], basically. Politics is involved with salesmanship. Government is involved with statesmanship. And I do make a distinction between those things. If you are making a political statement, remember, you are not addressing the real needs of government. … Just a friendly reminder, in case somebody does decide to speak up.
—Frank Zappa. 1987, Keyboard Magazine
The fifth Republican presidential debate was held at The Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas just after the third annual TopSpin Celebrity Charity Ping Pong Tournament hosted by basketball star Chris Paul and a few days before the fourth annual Ms. Viet Nam Continents Pageant. The auditorium looked just like a game show, or maybe the stage for American Idol. No seat was left empty.
Each candidate would go through makeup, hair, and wardrobe before stepping out on the immaculately waxed stage with a high shine and a CNN logo twelve feet long in front of big screen televisions that take up an entire wall of the theater. There they stood in front of hundreds, if not thousands, of studio audience viewers while millions watched from around the world. They were gathered in the entertainment capital of the world to perform. The candidates were split into two groups with an undercard and then the headliners, just like you would expect at the upcoming John Fogerty concert that would take place on that same stage the following month.
We didn’t used to pick our leaders in such a way. The first televised presidential debate was between only two candidates and it took place in Washington, D.C. The second debate was filmed in a single-story building with gray walls and two cameras in Charleston, West Virginia, between Kennedy and Humphreys.
If you read the transcripts of these first two televised debates you’ll find something you haven’t found in a presidential debate for decades: facts. All throughout both debates, there were names, dates, and places cited, well-thought out policies and plans were discussed. In this last GOP debate, buzzwords were currency and each candidate was rewarded with thirty more seconds if they never answered the original question. In the pre-debate opening act, former New York State Governor George Pataki was asked whether or not he’d back a policy to pay ransoms to terrorists and he answered with a long-winded nonsensical string of words which ended up talking about how our VA system has failed our veterans.
Flash over substance. The questions that should be answered with facts are now answered with buzzwords or talking points. When Ted Cruz was asked if Trump is qualified to be the President of the United States, he not only dodged the question, but he went over time with a long rant that went from the voters, to his daughters, to Ronald Reagan; when the moderator tried to cut him off at the end of his time, he actually said, “I’m answering the question, Dana,” and then he rambled on about the failings of Obama and Clinton, back to the voters, and closed with the audacious statement, “There is a real danger when people get distracted.”
The other candidates did the same thing. “Obama and Clinton” was uttered maybe two dozen times as if they were on the same ticket and were running for two more terms. Jeb Bush did his very best to make his highly-rehearsed statements seem made-up on the spot, like when he told Trump he can’t insult his way to the presidency. A meme for that went up on Twitter only seconds after he said it. Carson had a confusing analogy for just about every question. When asked if he would be capable of dealing with ISIL, he said that he was mean enough to pull tumors out of children’s skulls even though it hurt them, but the end result was worth it. Fiorina tried like hell to play the feminist card, but her railing against Planned Parenthood during the last debate made that hard to pull off.
There was a brief moment where Rubio and Paul debated. I mean, really debated and spoke about laws, but then Chris Christie cut in with his biggest applause line of the night by saying, “If your eyes are glazed over like mine right now, this is what it’s like to be on the floor of the United States Senate.” The former governor of New Jersey also had this tendency to look directly into the camera to answer his questions or to make grand pronouncements like calling our president a “feckless weakling.” That’s right, a sitting governor in the U.S. accused our president of not having any feck. That will go on the highlight reel.
The part of the night that will play ad nauseam on every 24-hour news station will be the tiff between Trump and Bush. Jeb came out swinging and Trump was dismissive until he couldn’t be anymore. Then Trump cited poll numbers, “I’m at 41, you’re at 3, Jeb. You started off over here, Jeb. You keep moving over more and more. Pretty soon you’ll be off the stage.”
And that was the fifth GOP debate of the upcoming 2016 election. While every candidate told us frequently and emphatically how incredibly scary terrorists and Muslim extremists are, none of them explained what they would do to stop them. Well, Cruz did say he would carpet bomb them until we found out if sand could glow in the dark, and Trump stuck to his position of bombing the shit out of them. Rubio tried to bring substance into the debate by speaking of Cruz’s voting record, but this just came off as ironic since Rubio has such a bad record with voting. As of two days ago, he’s missed 13.1% of the votes while the average for other senators is 1.7%.
When we look at the real winners and losers of this debate, we should expand the pool from just the candidates. The real winners of last night’s debate was CNN because these personalities pushed their viewership into the tens of millions. The real winner was the oil and coal industry. Their commercials played all night along with the preview of a movie about Benghazi. Big Pharma won too with commercials for pills that will make your blood pressure go down … talk about your target audience. The American political system was the biggest loser, but that’s what happens when you turn democracy into a reality television show.