I have to admit that I haven't been keeping up much with the presidential and vice presidential debates.
Of course, if you're on any form of social media on the night a debate is taking place, you can hardly help but hear about it.
Unfortunately, this type of debate has lost a lot of its usefulness, in part because of the ways in which all of us (the media, and various politically-oriented viewers) react to it.
I haven't seen or heard of very many people at all whose minds were changed by the debates. The vast majority of respondents to our Times-Gazette poll -- 77 percent -- said that their minds had been made up before the debates and the debates did nothing to change that.
You see the predictable responses from both sides after each debate. Our guy did great, because he pointed out all of those cold hard facts which we already knew about. The other guy just spewed out the same lies and spurious opinions he's been putting out for months now.
The debates have become, in effect, pep rallies. You watch them, not to be illuminated, but to find new reasons to like the guy you already like or -- and this is the part that bothers me -- dislike the guy you already dislike.
If the debate moderator holds one candidate's feet to the fire, well, he or she is just doing his job, and trying to keep the debate moving forward. If the debate moderator holds the other candidate's feet to the fire, it's because he or she is clearly biased and in the pocket of the opposition. It's almost exactly the same thing you see on high school football fields and basketball courts a million times a year -- any call that goes against your team is a bad call, and further evidence that the refs are terrible, while the calls that go in favor of your team are unnoticed, because, hey, the ref was just doing his job, so what's the big deal?
Of course, what many partisan debate watchers are actually doing by watching the debate is looking for a chance to pounce. If the opposition candidate misspeaks, says something stupid, well, that's great news, because now our guy can jump on it, maybe even feature it in his TV advertising from now until the election. And we're going to try really, really hard to hear the other guy saying something stupid, to the extent that we'll take what he says out of context (whether we realize it or not) and bend over backwards to interpret it in the worst possible way.
The political atmosphere in this country has become so toxic that I can't wait for the election to be over with. I've heard few, if any people, going around talking about what a great job their candidate would do if elected. This election is all about bad-mouthing the other guy. We've got to get Obama out of office, or we've got to keep Romney from getting in.
There are friends that I think of as good and reasonable and broad-minded who have taken to posting nothing but cheap shots at whichever candidate or party they happen to disagree with.
Unfortunately, this negativity has been seeping more and more into the regular process of governance. No matter which body controls the Congress, the concern seems to be less about what's right and more and more about what will reflect badly on the other party, even at the cost of the national good. The other effect is that, whomever is elected, half of the country ends up thinking that their president is corrupt, anti-American, in league with the forces of evil.
This has got to stop, for the good of the country. But I don't know how to make it stop. There's too much money to be made in pandering to people, stirring them up. There are pundits on both the right and the left whose business plan depends on blowing everything out of proportion and convincing their loyal viewers that we're teetering on the precipice. And there are far too many people blindly lapping up whatever those pundits have to say. There are now so many news sources that it's easy to pick and choose only the channels or magazines or web sites that confirm what I already believe. Anything that disagrees with my preconceptions must be biased.
There's a lot to be said for passionate belief. We need people who have principles and who have ideas about how to move this country forward. We need people to stand up for causes and be counted. But we also need reason and open-mindedness and common courtesy. We need people who know how to listen as well as talk. We need people who know when it's time to stand your ground and when it's time to compromise. Our founding fathers had strongly-divergent ideas about American government, and they spoke them passionately. But ultimately, our Constitution was forged out of compromise, taking some ideas from one side and some from the other. Unless we can learn to do the same, and stop demonizing each other, I fear for our future.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government.