I apologize now. I generally avoid politics. So I hope you will forgive this non-partisan diatribe about the media dumbing us down.
On Monday CNN televised the Republican Presidential Debate from New Hampshire, and during their telecast introduced us to a new debate format that can only indicate that CNN must think we are the shallowest (and maybe dumbest) people on the planet. Someone correct me if I am wrong. Presidential debates are supposed to help us determine whom we want to serve as President. No?
The job of President includes forming foreign policy and negotiating with world leaders, directing our domestic agenda including health care, the economy, taxes, social security, energy, and jobs, and protecting our resources and environment.
We face big challenges, arguably some of the greatest any generation has ever faced. If ever there was a time for us to take our political process seriously, now is it. No?
Enter the New Hampshire debate and CNN introducing the “This or That” segment. If you missed it, “This or That” asks the candidates to express a preference between two items unrelated to politics.
“Governor, do you prefer Coke or Pepsi?”
“Congressman, iPhone or Blackberry?”
How is it possible that these are the questions we are asking?!? Does this reflect the magnitude of our problems? Is this where we should be spending our time? And is this really what we want to hear?
This degrades us on so many levels. First, it is sad but true that human decision-making is horribly flawed. I’m a Coke guy. The Governor likes Coke. Whether I realize it or not, I’m going to like him more as a result, because humans tend to like people who share their tastes. How much I like him will influence how forgiving I am of his flaws and how eagerly I support his strengths.
Will this make a huge difference in the elections? Maybe not. But it might make some difference. We live in an age where a couple of hundred votes in a single county swayed the 2000 Presidential election. A narrow win in an early primary can swing the entire rest of a campaign for better or worse. To influence results based on a soda preference is unconscionable.
Second, this degrades the candidates who now have to spend time, maybe not much, but some time preparing to look good while answering inane questions like this. They have better things to do. Don’t they? How can we ask them to spend their time considering these questions? Wouldn’t we rather they prepare to discuss policy?
Third, and this might be the greatest tragedy of all, we are taking up air space, during the debate, on this op-ed, and elsewhere, talking about irrelevancies when we could use that time to answer the big questions we face. We could use that time to challenge the candidates to really answer the questions they are asked instead of dancing around them to no one’s satisfaction. We could use that time to get one more issue covered, to give a little more time to a minor candidate with unconventional views or a centrist who hopes to bring us back from excessive partisanship.
We could use that time to become well informed, to think deeply, to show we are a country to be admired, to build our pride.
Instead, we have been thrown to a new low, to a shallowness never before seen. Please CNN. Challenge us to be smarter, to try harder, to be better versions of ourselves. We can do it. We can rise to that challenge. That’s what we do. We are Americans.