Last night's debate, for the time that I watched it, was another exercise in mindlessness. This time I blame the candidates less than their inquisitors, Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, who seemed intent on nothing more that baiting the two into further petty attacks on each other.
I switched off, frustrated, after maybe half an hour. There had been not a single question of substance in that entire time. Perhaps those questions came later--questions about Bush's inexcusable war, global warming, world hunger; about our faltering economy and broken health care system, about jobs, education, a dangerously neglected infrastructure... I hope so. In the meantime, the two media questioners came up with Hillary's Bosnia fibs and the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Pathetic. The result of their efforts was to make Hillary look still more offensive and Obama defensive. When asked to explain yourself about the same issue for the hundredth time, how can your explanation look anything but defensive.
I just wished that either one of the candidates would have the guts to say, "No. I would be happy to answer this question if I had not already answered it publicly a hundred times already, and five times already in the past half hour. It was once a legitimate question, but by this time it is merely demeaning to me and demeaning to my opponent. It demeans you to keep asking it, and it demeans the intelligence of the audience and the American electorate. If there were anything further to learn in pursuit of this topic, I would have no hesitation in pursuing it with you. There is not. I have nothing further to say about the matter, and ask that you turn your attention, instead, to matters of real importance."
That moment did not come while I was watching what ABC TV allowed to pass for a political debate. From news reports this morning, I gather that it did not come at all. The great Aha! moment, it seems, was that Clinton was brought finally to agree that Obama would be able to defeat McCain in the November election if he were nominated as the Democratic candidate. (Has anyone noticed that Hillary rhymes with pillory; and Obama with diorama?) Big deal.
Shame on Gibson and Stephanopoulos. But shame on me, really, for allowing my mind to be engaged by this endless nonsense. As I started out saying, I could not shake the anger that it left me with. The great thing about meditation is that usually the practice of paying attention to the breath brings the mind into focus and allows it to leave intrusive thoughts and feelings behind. This morning, I watched myself boiling inside and tried to breathe it all away, but after a half hour of assiduous effort, my mind was still clinging stubbornly to its indignation. So I try writing instead.
Is this what the American public asks for? Is this what we deserve? When does it stop? It feels like we're caught in one of those nightmares that allows us no prospect of escape. Reason tells me that it can't go on forever. But the heart is caught in dread.