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Beginning with Kennedy and Nixon in 1960, major party nominations and presidential election campaigns have increasingly been subjected to forms of circus television we carelessly label “debates.”
With rough equality for all contestants regardless of their prospects, these productions have come to rival fund-raising in their importance to the candidates. Furnishing a free forum for pandering, televised debates can make or (more likely) break candidacies.
Examined from another vantage point, it’s fairly clear that the public interest to be served – civic education – has inevitably been compromised by television acting as its promotional medium. In the process (as Marshall McLuhan taught us would happen) the presentations have taken on the unmistakable traits of what television does best: quiz shows and sporting events. For proof, simply recall the serial face-offs of both political parties in 2008, or watch this cycle’s wrestling matches among Republicans.
Not surprisingly, given that television’s core is video, appearance was first to gain influence over discourse, and did so at the outset. What then-Vice President Nixon had to say about Quemoy and Matsu mattered little (and supposedly only to radio listeners) while his perspiring upper lip “lost” to then-Senator Kennedy.
Three decades and two wars later, the camera caught the first President Bush checking his wristwatch, unaware that viewers’ response to his apparent indifference would be “your time is up.”
The roots of what we have now can be seen in reruns of “What’s My Line?” “I’ve Got A Secret,” “Jeopardy!” and in every post-game sports analysis program. With instant polling through Internet voting and texting, we now even have scorecards! No need to follow the flow of campaign contributions to gauge the winners and losers.
In effect, the debates have been absorbed by the culture of our television. Thus, 30-second commercials have trained us to accept sound bites for thoughtfulness, and the competitive elements of sport (especially football) have transformed argument into “gotcha” politics. For good and ill, that’s mostly what we have. You needn’t be a couch potato to be comfortable with what television delivers.
Who can say that this process is better or worse than the back door deals that brought us (albeit indirectly) a President Truman? Inarguably, television’s sponsorship of debates, together with its saturation coverage of the primaries, has (but for the campaign funds component) opened our election systems for 24/7 viewing. It does so, however, on its terms – and those terms often distort electoral politics. Take the matter of what has come to be labeled “flip-flopping.”
Under many circumstances, flip-flopping should be deemed a virtue. In respectable company it consists of revising your judgment after reconsidering an issue. Call it changing your mind.
Rather than promoting an understanding of issues, televised debates have conditioned us to reject an open mind by promoting the gotcha moments of the format; and the best of those are when the suspect is accused of flip-flopping and the pundits press the case ad nauseam.
Just consider a few flip-flops of no small consequence: Jefferson stretching the Constitution with the Louisiana purchase; Wilson entering World War I despite his contrary promise; Nixon opening China after decades searching for who “lost” it. The benefits of those flips cannot seriously be disputed.
Yet hardly anything can doom a candidate more surely than being called a flip-flopper. A philanderer or alcoholic can be rehabilitated through counseling or rehab but there’s no forgiveness or reform for a flip-flopper exposed on live television.
To the candidate, it’s become a fault worse than indecision. When confronted, he or she can only retreat into alibis concocted of misunderstandings, or the missing context, or some other nonsense such as John Kerry’s explanation that he voted no before voting yes (or the other way around) about the Iraq war.
About the Author: Arnold Mazur is a retired attorney and business executive who, defying the Arab boycott office, was first to establish in Israel a subsidiary of a major U.S. software company.
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Girlfriend and double cop-killer Ismaaiyl Brinsley apparently was influenced by Islamic extremism.
Thus, despite the increasingly serious problems for the mayor arising out of the current anti-police protests, Mr. de Blasio apparently will be cut no slack by those who seem to be aiming for a significant role in running the city from the streets and who will do whatever they can to prevent their momentum from ebbing.
Despite strong pressure to throw the book at the accused, Mr. Thompson allowed him to plead guilty to assault.
A revolution is taking place between good and evil; light and darkness. Make the light activism!
We see pictures of mosques, monuments for terrorists, illegal schools, and hundreds of apartments being built on Jewish land without repercussions. We are losing Jewish property, so it is up to us to protect it.
Obama’s comments calling Israeli settlements “unhelpful”are harsher than prior US administrations’
He ruthlessly crushed the revolt, and, despite lacking official Roman sanction, ordered the rebel leaders put to death without trial.
Hamas recently stated publicly that a new explosion of violence against Israel is imminent.
We can never allow Israel in the name of democracy to turn herself into an Arab or bi-nationalstate
The Jordanian public is a fertile ground of anger that could be easily exploited by ISIS.
Let us become modern day Maccabees and seize the day. Embrace the challenge. Fight for Hashem.
It was the late Abba Eban who famously said that “the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” In his time that was for the most part true, and it arguably worked for Israel’s benefit, particularly when Israel found itself in a tight diplomatic squeeze.
Now that we’ve suffered, yet again, through the annual United Nations circus, has it occurred to anyone (other than New York City police officers) to question why we continue to tolerate the hypocrisy and waste of it all?
Small things make a difference. For example, as an old folk tale has it, a pebble in your shoe can cause more pain than a rock in your pocket.
Opponents of President Obama do not lack for reasons to criticize him or his administration. Not justifiably among them, however, would be the contention that Obama the candidate had misled the country regarding his intentions.
We need to learn from history. Once upon a time (nearly forty years but not so long ago, really) American foreign policy was being stymied, on every issue and continent, by a duplicitous Soviet Union, Confounded by the Vietnam War, President Richard Nixon and his foreign policy czar, Henry Kissinger, faced not so much crises that threatened America as murky messes that wouldn’t yield to unilateral resolution. Soviet partnership was needed but at best absent.
Former president Jimmy Carter’s controversial twining of Israel and the “apartheid” epithet created quite the fuss, as has the Biden construction affair and its aftermath of bloodying the Israeli nose. Unsurprisingly, if leaky reports are true, lurking in the background of both stories is the second-rate theorist Zbigniew Brzezinski, still hoping somehow to overcome the frustration of not being Henry Kissinger.
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