That is, if you also count the vice-presidential debate.
When I went to Russia, we visited with the mayor of a small 'burb outside of Moscow. This guy was a nuclear physicist, but in the new Russia, not as many physicists were needed. So, many scientists went into business or politics. This guy was actually a celebrity on an expert think tank show, and that helped him win the election.
The group of professors I was traveling with had many questions for the mayor, including a question focusing on whether Russia was a better place now that Russia was exercising the right to vote someone into office, rather than having people in appointed positions. What the mayor said stayed with me. He wasn't sure that elections were better than appointments. Elections meant you had to get people to like you. You had to put on a show. You couldn't always say what you thought. You had to appeal to popularity. And you couldn't always do what you thought of as the right thing.
Pluses and minuses, I know. But that swings us right into talking about
Wrestlemania Smackdown IIIthe debates. No wonder Romney is confused. And no wonder, especially in last night's debate, Obama is occasionally this person I feel is less than presidential.
Just as a disclaimer: I have voted. I have voted for Obama. It's in. The courthouse has it. Game over. Women's rights. The democratic platform aligns much more closely with mine. I gotta be able to look my gay friends in the eye, after all. Done deal.
That said...these "debates" were really, really awful. To use a line from The Simpsons, they were "infotainment." America has this idea about what they want a president to be like. They want this charismatic guy (so far) who will bomb craptastic terrorist foreigners into oblivion, but is still a guy you'd like to have kiss your baby. Someone who says guns are okay and oil is a good idea. Someone who will yell over his opponent if the opponent is saying stuff he disagrees with. Someone whose witticisms and barbs, whose zingers are more important than the substantive parts of his debate.
So...here are some things you just won't hear, regardless of what a candidate thinks.
"China has a horrible human rights record, much like many Middle Eastern countries. We refuse to do business with them until they do the right thing."
"War is a fucked up concept. Let's wage peace by combating world poverty and inequitable world systems."
"Many rights thought of as women's issues are family issues. Let's work on raising better kids for the future by improving legislation that affects families, such as childcare, nutrition and early education."
"Since I really don't know much about education, I suggest we have a committee of teachers come together to improve the system. The idea that they are bums who want to exploit our system is preposterous, given the amount of money they don't make over their careers."
"Money is not the only measure of success."
"Oil does not make the world go around."
"Drone attacks are immoral."
"We need a comprehensive system to encourage less hate and division among the people of the United States, which is the root at many problems in our country, not limited to classism, racism, and bipartisanship."
"Mutual respect among countries is a good thing."
"The US is not number one, nor does unjustified pride justify us throwing our weight around pretending that we are. Being bullies does not help us."
And so on. Okay, okay, many of you say that these things would be good to say, but we just can't do it. I'm naive and idealistic, and other countries would just walk all over us.
Maybe so. But also, maybe not. Everyone knows someone who is so cool, and they didn't get that reputation through intimidation or greed, but rather through service and creativity. Well. People are not countries. Why not? I understand corporations are. I'm calling on the US to be more Google culture and less, well, Bain culture.
Cue warm fuzzy kittens and rainbows. However, I am mostly serious.
On a final note, I think that it's ridiculous to call these electoral events debates. They are certainly minimally moderated. If one person doesn't follow the rules, both candidates are reduced to bulldozing answers, and if there is some sort of attempt to respect the rules, they lose, a la Obama in debate one. People don't want to see civil debates. Candidates want to yell over each other, rather than talk.
Perhaps we should blame ourselves for that. The debate is a sedate, maybe outdated, exchange of ideas in a world where being civil to each other doesn't count as much as winning. I freely admit to wanting Obama to make a come back after that first debate, like he was some sort of prize fighter. Shame on me.
We really need to take a look at the system. Gladitorial games might be better. In a world where stands do not matter, integrity is adaptable through pandering, and the United States has a media that distorts for ratings and anxiety, wouldn't you rather see who's better with sword or shield? Or maybe who's better with a first person shooter gun? All this is manly, and this, cowboy, is what we want in America.
Ah well. See you in another four years. I'll bring the popcorn.