Please...Smoke-filled Rooms Again!

To those who are sort of long-in-the-tooth, the current presidential debates are more a sham or venue of entertainment than informative sessions. The first debate (Republicans), Fox-News engineered and way too long, involved too many aspirants for any to have time for answers, not to mention the fact that the “interrogators” were the center of attention as much or more as the wannabes. The vicious attack by Megan Kelly on Trump over something as silly as what he may have said about women was instructive, not to mention Baier's “command” that hands be raised in answer to a question a la first-grade mode.

The second debate (Democrats) was CNN-engineered and opened with a similar attack on Hillary Clinton, but at least on substantive issues—her well-documented flip-flops over serious matters. Thankfully, there were only five aspirants instead of ten (unlike the first, with a prelim of five). In an actual debate, there are no interruptions when a speaker holds forth. In these sham debates, there were constant interruptions and back-and-forth arguments (people talking at the same time) that negated seriousness...sort of like a schoolyard fight without the fisticuffs.

Debate-audiences are anathema, with their clapping, screaming and whistling as if attending a football game. No debate should take place before a live audience, or at least only before one that makes not a sound—impossible in TV-world, where sensation is the mother's milk of the bottom-line, sort of like a grand quarterback-concussion in an NFL game or the wild crash at a race-car event.

I remember the “good ol' days,” (pre-1972) when candidates, often after many suspenseful votes, were actually chosen at the quadrennial party-conventions. Speeches were designed to mean something. Now, they're delicately prepared exercises to show off rhetorical ability and not much else, with special effort made not to offend anyone, at least in the party, no matter how off-the-wall...Chafee, for instance, who changed from republican to independent to democrat without changing his stances, or so he said, thus implying that principles meant nothing. That's exponential opportunism, not statecraft.

As a youngster, I remember fortifying myself with a whole box of raisins in preparation for the day-long-into-the-night convention sessions carried only by radio (no TV then, thankfully), listening to the speeches, wondering about the “smoke-filled-rooms,” and then tallying the vote-counts. As I got older, I heard a bit less and did without the raisins (which I still chew, though, sometimes in conjunction with chocolate-chips). Even the advent of TV didn't materially harm the program.

Along came the flower-children of 1968 (well into the TV-era), who, rebelling against their parents of “Great Depression” and “greatest generation” fame and the Vietnam War, rioted in Chicago when the police had to scrape them off the ground at Grant Park and other places in various hippy-dippy conditions, like LSD-slap-happy. So, the convention-process was thrown aside, like throwing the baby out with the bath-water. The silly primary season(s) was born for 1972, and it's all been downhill since then, with the conventions a time for long-winded, meaningless speeches, drunkenness and good times.

Add in the debates, providing the interrogators the opportunity to be the stars, and the sideshow is complete. One remembers the debate staged especially for the LGBTQ gang in 2008—an exercise in perversion, giggles all around. Biden and Dodd, but not Hillary and Barack, ignored that scene designed to show enhanced political correctness since that outfit was not a huge voting bloc. Remember Gore getting an attack of “sighs” in 2000 or Biden an attack of “smirks” in Danville, Ky., in 2012. ABC's Martha Raddatz helped him through it.

Just as they love overtime sports events and long crash-filled car races, the advertisers love the long debates, with commercials on CNN going at up to $200,000 when the usual prime-time cost is only $5,000 for a 30-second spot. Trump called out the networks on this stuff and he and Dr. Carson threatened to renege if the time for the next fiasco is not down to two hours, along with opening and closing speeches, during which—if anything is learned—a candidate might actually state at least one position clearly.

Add in the networks' biases and the stage is set for what amounts to either a hatchet job or a “greatest thing since p/b/j sandwiches,” depending on the broadcasters' agendas. The debates stink. Bring back the smoke-filled rooms and forget the trivia.

And so it goes.
Jim Clark