Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Presidential Debates

There is a lot of hype about the first presidential debate of 2012 to be held tommorow, with the media highlighting gaffs of previous debates and predicting how each candidate this year might do. I think previous debate footage is much like a number of the clips shown on America’s Funniest Videos. For some reason people like to see others doing stupid or careless things, laughing when someone trips and falls down, gets bonked in the crotch, or gets the hooey scared out of them by a practical jokester. And for some reason people think it’s funny to see a younster caught in a lie or acting mean to another child. Perhaps showing excerpts from previous debates is intended to be humorous. Personally, I’d rather see cats, dogs, birds and wild animals doing funny things, silly or amazing antics, but without stupidity. I don't care to watch the debates, hoping for someone to screw up.

I also wondered why these were even called debates. Perhaps they are loosely fitted into a debate format, with an issue brought forth in the form of a question and each candidate given a timed turn to express an opinion on the question, but it doesn’t seem like responses in debates of the past presented convincing arguments about an issue, as is expected of high school and college debate teams. It’s mostly “blah, blah, blah, look how wonderful I am and how much I know that the other guy doesn't.” And besides, the questions are often begun with some sort of opinionated preamble. If perceptive, you can usually see what moral or conceptual stand the framer of the question has.

I recently read two commentaries - from the HuffPost line of contributors to The Blog. I couldn’t believe I actually found something I wanted to read from the Huffington Post, it having the reputation of having heavy liberal leanings and my hardly being liberal myself, but, there were points made that were not especially focused on a particular candidate or party philosophy that spoke to me.

The first was in a commentary by George Lakoff - “What to Watch for in the Presidential Debates”. I don’t think media predictions on what to expect from the candidates have taken these ideas into consideration. If I were going to watch the debates, I would try to keep these things in mind.  In his commentary, Mr. Lakoff wrote,

  • All politics is [are] based on moral values, with strict conservatives and progressives having different moral values.

  • There are also morally complex voters -- moderates, independents, swing voters -- who are progressive on some issues and conservative on others.

  • All issues are conceptually "framed" -- that is, they have a mental structure that fits one's moral system.

  • Facts matter, but only when they clearly fit one's morally-based frames. Facts and figures, when used, should create a moral point in a memorable way. And if the facts don't fit your frames, the frames stay (since they are in your brain) and the facts are ignored or ridiculed.

  • Political language is rarely neutral. Because all words are defined in conceptual frames, all political language is defined in terms of morally-based frames.

The other article really spoke to my view on the influence of the US political system and of the media. Again, there is no undue candidate or party bashing in this article, but this a good (in my opinion) eye-opener for citizens who may be inclined to believe everything they hear or read. The state of the political system and influence of the media make me grind my teeth when I think about them.

I had already decided not to watch the presidential debates. Reading Emily Dickinson is a lot more pleasant.

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