Saturday, September 27, 2008

Conversationalism + 2008: How Our Conversation's Going

Culture is a conversation, and in a democracy, one of the most important culture-defining conversations is an election. Overall culture is often given many defining characteristics by its leaders: often, much of the culture defines itself in response to that. In a democracy, the choice of leaders is, in effect, a choice of cultural values and guiding philosophies to engrain in our culture. As our candidates compete, not only are we voting for policies, we are voting for the philosophies which underly policies. Hence, in previous elections, you get candidates winning on platforms built on the Bible or Reaganomics, even they don't necessarily apply in the situations they're being applied to. Why? Because the voters are responding to principles they agree with, regardless of the actual issues.

So, how is our conversation going in this election cycle?

I think it's going really well. It's still having some problems, but it's alive. Two points:

  • The Debate: This nearly was a debacle. If McCain had stuck to his intention not to attend, it would have crippled one of the key moments of conversation in this election. After all, the chance to actually put two candidates in conversation with each other is not seen anywhere else in the campaign--and putting the candidates in conversation forces the core supporters and the undecideds to really see both candidates side-by-side, responsive. Having no debate would have been a truly souring event, and it would have set an incredible precedent: that candidates have no responsibility to the national dialogue in the lead-up to the election.

    As for the debate that actually happened: both candidates were (mostly) respectful (McCain's body language was rude, but it wasn't overtly rude). Both candidates (mostly) addressed the issues (as much as politicians have ever been seen to previously). And both candidates were (mostly) sticking to the facts.

    There is a way to go, for both sides. But the fundamentals of this debate were strong.

    The format of the debate was better than many before. Unlike the laughably constructed CNN or Fox Debates (and the horrendous ABC-Gibson/Stephanopolis Debates), Jim Lehrer tried to get the candidates to speak clearly and directly to each other. I actually agree with the candidates that speaking directly to each other is not necessarily the best way to frame it, but it does need to be responsive--Question Time in the House of Commons is a fantastic example of that balance. Diffuse the tension without losing responsiveness.

  • John McCain/Sarah Palin's Relationship to the Press: This has been one of the more disappointing aspects of the campaign. The refusal of Sarah Palin to face the press, and the refusal of both candidates to answer straightforward questions, has been disgraceful. The same goes for certain blatant lies that have been repeated by both sides. Up until the Bush Presidency, there was a tradition that politicians would sometimes lie, but once caught, they would retract those lies. The idea that a politician can simply continue to insist that his lie is true is flabbergasting. I hope that this idea is put to rest when he loses.

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