I watched, God help me, as much as I could stand last night before taping the rest of it, the MSNBC post-game analysis, and this morning's chatter on CNN, in the way someone might cap off a night and early morning of inadvisable drinking by eating the most disgusting, sugar-laden, marginally non-toxic piece of American Food Goo he could find at the Mini-Mart--by the cartonfull, for good measure--just to make sure the following Sick was as virulent as the offense called for. Then I watched as much as I could stand of the recordings. And I have no idea which was the most offensive.
Nor do I really know what to say about them, except that each was an exercise in setting up a story, including the debate itself, which seemed to've been scripted by Brian Williams' writing staff and management team with the intention of fomenting a Perry/Romney fracas it could sell the way NBC's Sports Division (is that separate from the news?) might tout an NBA final as Kobe vs LeBron.
Who does this serve? Not the viewer. Not the national debate. Not the other Six Specks of Granite. Perry and Romney--fer chrissakes, they both look like The Incredibly Age-Regressing Zombie Reagan with special effects from #5 or 6 in the Lon Chaney, Jr., Wolfman series, don't they?--split the first ten minutes of the thing; the Officially-Proclaimed Also-Rans divvied up the next ten. Everybody's prepped for the sort of question Williams will ask, and Williams is trying to look just competent enough to deflect criticism, but not rile the Right, or not above the nominal, any way. After that it's a two-hour search for soundbites.
I grew up a mile from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I go back to a time when the racing car pilot--a real man untroubled by intellect who wrestled death-trap bullets of real steel on the edge of glory and disembowelment--could not be counted on to remember to thank the car owner when the cameras rolled. Today's slick magazine idol has been chosen in no small part for his ability to say "The boys worked their butts off to get the Pepsi-Fritos-Laetrile Ford, Brought To You By Certs, with Retzin™ back into the field yesterday," as naturally as he draws breath.
C'mon, do we have to work to elicit this sort of thing with politicians? These people are prepared to give their stump speeches, making sure to cough up the Phrase that Pays as often as possible. That is their full-time job. Shouldn't we expect a United States Representative, or even a western Governor, for that matter, to be, at minimum, amenable to the sort of training required to spit out a message, when that's all they have on their plate? For God's sake, they got Schwazenegger to do that. And Fabio. (And yes, I'm looking at you, members of the Press who were so artificially impressed by Bachmann's initial debate appearance, though I'm not Weigeling any names. I mean I'm not mentioning any Weigels.) And they're prepped for the Celebrigossip round. Mitt Romney's response to the sudden Perry supremacy is not a piece of stage business. It's the salient question for his campaign at the moment, and that campaign goes on seven days a week. For the life of me, what is the attraction of having this exchange:
"Michael Dukakis created more jobs than you did in Massachusetts."
"Well, George Bush and his predecessor created more jobs than you did in Texas."
unless we're just really, really fascinated by the spectacle of two empty suits embarrassing themselves? This was not the fault of Williams. It's the fucking silly setup. (By the way, her name was Ann Richards, which is so well-known I can only assume that Romney's people didn't want him to suddenly appear informed.) I don't give a fuck what Republican presidential hopefuls think of the philosophical conundrum of Anti-Gubment "Conservatives" who spend their entire lives living off the taxpayer dime. If this mattered to any of them they wouldn't be politicians, or Republicans. It's an artificial gotcha. It's something for Beltway insiders to chuckle over while on their third Macallan 15 of the evening.
If Mitt Romney's gonna pull some Al Gore Invented The Internet routine * the proper response is to have a Zen teacher walk across the stage and belt him with a stick. If all you're going to do is hold a microphone to the mirror reflection of the thing, just do that. Rick Perry reiterating, for the umpteenth time, his crackpot inaccuracies about Social Security isn't news. It's a pathology. The proper response to that is a straitjacket, not Mitt Romney musing on Perry's electability. Really taking that down would mean exposing the sham Social Security game the Right's been playing since the 80s. Which, of course, no one with a major network job, or a name on the masthead of a nominally financially-functioning website, is going to do. Couldn't we get Matt Taibbi and Christopher Hitchens to moderate one of these things?
* Credit where credit is due, carefully worded, and competently delivered, to invoke the laughter of a Reagan Library crowd without actually saying that Vice President Gore claimed he invented the internet. Still, there's such a thing as a freshness date, and it's surpassed more quickly when the product in question was beaten to death by a parade of drunkards ten years previous.