Thursday, September 30, 2004

WHY THE DEBATE IS (SORT OF) IMPORTANT. A well-informed friend wrote to me today and suggested that we skip tonight's Presidential debate. We all know how we're going to vote already, he suggested; why not spare ourselves the aggravation?

While any course of action that might quiet the screaming voices in my head is worth considering, nonetheless I expect to watch (and liveblog -- or rather, given my dialup connection, lagblog) the debate. My main reason is simple. I want to see what this Kerry guy is about.

You'd think I'd know by now, but I'm a simple soul who just knows what he reads by the papers and sees on the TV, which is to say that I mainly know about Kerry what the Bush campaign wants me to know.

This is not to say that our media are all or even mainly Republican shills (though there are plenty of these, and all of them are much more egregious than whatever opposite numbers may exist on the left; today's New York Post, for example, was as on-message as polling-place handout -- even the style section had a huge article on Kerry's allegedly phony tan).

The media don't have to be shills -- they just have to be lazy and nervous. Repurposing a press-release is always easier than legwork, and after the document-kerning outrage, news orgs are even more risk-averse than usual, and that's saying something. And, with Karl Rove spoon- and force-feeding them stories, the media can take the easy way out more easily than ever.

So along with the boring pictures of candidates with their sleeves rolled up, each day we get a fairly predictable batch of stories. The Bush stories are usually stop-the-presses stuff about the movements of the President of the United States (look, he's going from Texas to Florida! Look, he's goin' again!). And any government event that can be spun, however shakily, as a net plus gets Bush's fingerprints stuck onto it (even a "flat consumer spending" story carries a talking point so carefully crafted -- "President Bush says his three major tax cuts have lifted the country out of recession, and are responsible for strong economic growth" -- one wonders whether the paper's editor didn't just pull it out of the appropriate drawer of a multi-chambered gift box from Ed Gillespie).

The Kerry stories, conversely, are about windsurfing, flipflops, botox and fake tans.

Our derelict Fourth Estate probably gets itself to sleep at night with the notion (eased into the bloodstream via a solution of single malt) that whatever factual slack their hackwork leaves will be taken up by concerned citizens. You know, like the Swift Boat Veterans.

The larger reality behind all this is the fact that the Republican Party has about twice as much money as the Democratic Party.

I really think I need to repeat that: the Republican Party has about twice as much money as the Democratic Party.

If you need more explanation than that, you haven't been paying attention. I don't mean attention to this column. I mean attention in life.

So tonight's event is Kerry's best chance to date to present and explain himself to hundreds, perhaps even thousands of citizens who have lost the remote and, through laziness or physical disability, cannot get up to switch to Vegas Hookers Gone Wild In Their New Queer-Eyed Home! It isn't much, but it's about as good as he's going to get this season.

I look forward with interest. Hell, maybe he'll convince me to vote for Nader.

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