Tuesday, October 23, 2012

It's the Barack and Mitt Show!

Barack Obama wants four more years

Well, its one of the biggest shows around at the moment.... I'm talking of course, about the US presidential elections. In just about two weeks from now, Americans will go to the polls to decide whether they want to stick with the Dream Big candidate or go for the new guy, the CEO candidate. It's been a tight race up until recently. Mitt Romney said some dumb things and was all but written off until he came roaring back in the first of three debates and re-ignited the passion of his followers.

I have watched all three debates and I was fairly engaged throughout. A lot of assertions were made and accusations thrown about, many of them only half truths or outright fabrications. I expect the average American viewer must have been sitting there in a haze of boredom and confusion. After all, even if you can get beyond the stats, how do you tell who's lying and who's telling the truth? Even the fact checkers couldnt quite agree on exactly what was the truth and what was made up... so do the debates really help anyone to make up their minds? It's very hard to say. Its a wonderful tradition, but I feel its largely been made a mockery of by the very medium its featured on - television.

Mitt says I'm your man

It's not so much the problem of what the candidates are saying, as what they are NOT saying. On many occasions I wanted one of them to break out and say something real, but they are so schooled by their teams to stick to repeating stock phrases over and over again, that actually very little of substance emanates from their mouths. They are also told not to indulge in long statements, which the press dubs as 'rambling'. Obama is said to be 'guilty' of this. In other words, when he tries to explain something in greater detail, people accuse him of being professorial, as if that is bad thing. 

By this I mean, everyone wants their children to get a college education but when one of the candidates starts behaving like a college professor, everyone gets turned off: 'Cut it out, dude, you're BORING everyone to death." So even though everyone says the economy is the big issue, no-one really wants to see their candidate explain how they will attack and solve this problem in any real depth. This is TV! We want snappy lines, quips, sound bites. Little bite-sized chunks of policy. Be Charlie Sheen, not Paul Krugman! The inference is: people are too stupid to grasp anything too complex on TV.  The very nature of the debates prevents serious discussion. Each candidate gets two minutes to speak. Just how much information can you even deliver in two minutes? Not much.

So why is everyone still watching, TV dinners on laps, when there is nothing much to hear? Well, it's not so much about WHAT the candidate is saying, as HOW they are saying it. Does he look presidential? Is he cool, calm and collected? Is he being rude? Is he aggressive/passionate enough or is he just a robot? Does he look trustworthy or shifty under the studio lights. Can we relate to him? Is he a nice guy? Its like a job interview. It really tells you nothing about the applicant. But employees get a probationary period, presidential candidates on the other hand, once in, are in for four years.  In truth, NONE of these things should matter when it comes to the crucial issues of the day. And yet these are the factors that will ultimately decide the outcome of the election.

Before television, candidates gave speeches on the campaign trail, wrote editorials in newspapers, engaged with people in public forums. But since television, that hardly matters anymore. Now its just talking heads, sound bites, instant analysis, catchphrases that are tweeted and re-tweeted (binders full of women, who killed big bird). You ever wonder how the USA managed to end up with 8 years of George W Bush? Here's your answer: he bought more television time than his opponent. TV worked for him. He came across as a regular, down-to-earth kind of guy on TV. Someone the voter could 'relate' to. Someone they could have a beer with. Some people do well on TV. Its a good medium for them. Does that mean they will make a good president? Hell, no.

Ultimately the debates have not shifted the polls too much. Romney had a big lift after the first debate, largely due to a lack-luster performance (a word not used lightly) from Obama. But since then Obama has fought back, not by changing what he is saying, but 'acting' more like he means it. He's been more animated, more passionate, made more eye contact. He's still saying the EXACT same things, but his body language has changed. Because that's what really counts on TV, as his advisers have no doubt hammered into him remorselessly since that first debate. Its not like radio and the written word, where you have to concentrate on WHAT is being said, without the distraction of pictures. 

But that is the reality of our world today. TV has an inordinately powerful influence on the outcome of this critical event. If you're going to make it in politics, you have to look good and sound good on TV, now more than ever. So what's the big deal? Americans have elected presidents that weren't intellectual giants in the past (Ronald Reagan) and yet they managed to do OK. But the world is a very different place now. The stakes are much higher. The world desperately needs an America which will get back on track economically and lead us out of the darkness. Hopefully, this will be a wiser America, one that has learned from its mistakes and will be able to avoid repeating some of the major strategic errors that caused the hardships of the last decade. No more unneccessary wars, no more rampant investment banks that bring the world's greatest economy to its knees and then get a free pass. No more falling asleep at the wheel and letting your advisers run the show.

Which is why this election is so critical, and why Americans should take the time to read up on their candidates and make a decision based on real, solid information, not what the TV says. The American people (and the world) need a president with a good head and a good heart. Both are essential to a successful Presidency I wish us all the best of luck come November 6th and I sincerely hope they make the right decision.