Monday, January 9, 2012

On the Limits of Debate (Election 2012 Edition)

As I stated in my previous post, watching the Republican candidates debate is a "mind-bendingly elaborate insult to rational discourse," and very few inside the media are wont to scrutinize the inanity of the process. While the debates themselves were, in the past run by a non-partisan and independent organization, the League of Women Voters, since 1988 the debates have been a collusion between the two ruling parties, and hence a sham. Not only does the Commission on Presidential Debates effectively exclude third-party and unpopular opinions for national, televised debates (the sole avenue through which most Americans learn about the candidates), but the participants agree on ground rules (those topics for which they can and cannot discuss) behind closed doors and without any form of public participation. The process as it stands now is unrepentant political theater at its purest and a conspiracy in the truest Twainian sense:

“A conspiracy is nothing but a secret agreement of a number of men for the pursuance of policies which they dare not admit in public”

So it follows that yet another mechanism of discursive gatekeeping has been inscribed in the process itself, limiting the candidates who may appear (and hence their ability to be "known" by the electorate), limiting the scope and boundaries of the topics discussed, and ultimately constraining the potential range of policies any given President may be able to enact.

If the above breakdown sounds cynical and defeatist, I admit for the moment, that it is. But every so often, the contradictions that exist within this closed system yield unexpected results.

Take this Vlog discussion between linguist James McHorter and Brown University's Glenn Loury on Ron Paul and the Republican debates:

Once again, Ron Paul is the key here. The process as it is produced a candidate for whom a portion of his political message runs diametrically opposed to political orthodoxy, namely the sacrosanct triumvirate of the domestic security state, the "war" on drugs, and military intervention and occupation abroad. This is so shocking because even the Democrats were afraid to run a candidate so boldly in opposition to warlord Bush in 2004, fearing the label of being "weak on defense."

Glenn Loury very lucidly (and I think accurately) denounces the requirement of each candidate to "genuflect" appropriately to satisfy the overarching Republican narrative (Obama must be stopped at all cost, taxes must be cut to end recession, America needs to fight and expand its wars indefinitely, entitlements must be eliminated, etc...). They make reference to the idea of Ron Paul's odious views as akin to "farting in church," which in and of itself invokes a startling image of the ideological groupthink in which the political and media classes are embroiled.

The conclusion drawn by both commentators is intriguing, namely that Ron Paul's views on domestic policy are abhorrent, but seeing as how the media elite have done everything in their power to make him invisible (and when they cannot ignore him outright, paint him as "unelectable"), it is fascinating to hear his views on foreign policy in such close proximity to the perpetual caterwauling over whom would bomb Iran MORE.

It is difficult for me to produce an opinion more articulate and striking as the above two commentators, but I would only say that despite my aforementioned cynicism, I think that the mere inclusion of Paul's anti-Imperialist critique in the debate signals a larger civilizational trend for the growth of civility in our fractured world. In 2003, on the eve of starting an unprovoked, illegal and immoral war on Iraq, we saw some of the largest world-wide protests ever recorded. Despite the ubiquitous gloom and doom impressed upon us by global events, we are becoming more civilized; the voice of reason, and those willing to repeat and amplify that voice, are growing. Strange days, indeed.

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