Thu 14 Oct
Much to my dismay, news outlets and politically-oriented weblogs are continuing to devote time, words and breath to the fact that John Kerry mentioned Mary Cheney, vice president Dick Cheney’s daughter — who happens to be a lesbian — in the course of last night’s debate. You can find all of the details elsewhere, so I’m not going to detail them here. In my opinion, it’s much ado about nothing — Kerry’s reference was both respectful and relevant — and the brewing furor is yet another example of trumped-up indignation on the part of conservatives (however, I admit that even some of my pinko friends found it somewhat inappropriate).
As it happens, this incident is a good illustration of one of the reasons I find it so frustrating and stressful to watch the presidential debates, especially when George W. Bush is a participant.
During the course of any of these debates, I form my own opinion on the performance of these characters, what you might call a primary reaction. In most cases, watching Bush’s bizarre facial contortions and Kerry’s embarrassing equivocations, I find Kerry worryingly imperfect and Bush frighteningly awful. The thing is, that primary reaction seems to almost never have any bearing on the secondary reaction that emerges amongst the pundits and the public at large immediately following the debate and in the ensuing days.
A Kerry performance that strikes me as weak might get praised as surprisingly strong. And a Bush performance that strikes me as incompetent and deceitful might get characterized as confident and forthright. The fact is that I seem to have no idea how others will react to these debates whatsoever. And with so much riding on them, it becomes and exercise in excruciating tension to observe these two white men verbally duking it out.
For lack of a particularly vivid imagination, I’ll turn to a sports analogy to better communicate my point: the experience is very much like watching a ball-game and thinking that you know who won the game and who scored the points, but knowing full well that the sportscasters and fellow fans will have a completely different verdict the following morning. It turns all of the highs and lows of the game on their sides, so you have no idea whether a great play will even go noticed by the crowd, or if a seemingly innocuous player error will become a public scandal. Which perhaps underscores the real truth, which is that I know jack shit about politics. And sports.