I watched the debate last night and saw snippets of the day-after commentary—a quote from the New York Times, some snark from Tucker Carlson, quips and quibbles from Chuck Todd, Joe Scarborough, Chris Matthews. Throughout it all, I kept wondering if I saw the same debate. It’s not the first time my perception of a debate or speech seemed almost anachronistic in comparison to the pundits. But the contrasting perceptions today were profoundly surreal. So surreal I can’t even get Howard Bealeish about it.
The overwhelming consensus among pundits: “It was Obama’s worst performance yet!”
Really? Worst? I listened some more, thinking maybe I missed something.
“He didn’t fight back! He looked like a wimp! He said ‘Umm’ and hesitated!”
Aha. That’s the difference, I thought to myself. You, Mr. Pundit, wanted Obama to get in Hillary’s face. You wanted a knock-out, drag-out brawl.
I, on the other hand, got what I wanted: a dignified response to a host of undignified questions. Thoughtfulness. Integrity. Restraint. And, when the timing was right, a declarative statement about how utterly stupid the whole 52 minutes of gotcha was.
I was proud. Senator Obama once again proved that he will not lower himself to politics as usual. Thank you, Senator.
At some point during the day, someone—Chuck Todd? Chris Matthews?—wondered out loud if Obama’s strategy was to remain above the fray. You know, so that we’d feel sorry for him. And then his poll numbers would shoot up again like they’ve done in the past. I wanted to pull my hair out. Here’s the deal, Chuckie T: I don’t feel one bit sorry for Obama. But I do have more respect for him than ever before.
Who raised these pundits? Who taught them that you’ve got to kick a person when she’s down (seriously, one of them wondered why Obama didn’t go after Hillary when she stumbled all over the Bosnia question)? Who told them that the best political strategy is the meanest one? Just because that’s the strategy most politicians use doesn’t mean it’s the right one. Obama could walk away from all of this tomorrow and still be able to hold his head up and look himself in the mirror. I’m wondering if Hillary could do the same.
It’s not Obama who is out of touch. Hell, it probably isn’t even Hillary. It’s the pundits. They wonder why “bittergate” hasn’t struck a chord and sent voters high-tailing it to Hillary. They wonder how voters can see past the Jeremiah Wright thing and then marvel at Obama’s poll numbers after his epic speech. It’s not rocket science, guys. Take a vacation. Spend some time in the real world. We, those of us who live in little towns in the Midwest, are tired of the baiting, the badgering, the bullshit. Even Keith Olbermann doesn’t get it. He thinks Obama is made of teflon now. No. He’s just a decent human being who makes mistakes, admits them, and tries to stay focused on the task at hand. Keith, buddy, why so cynical?
And here’s another tip: nuance isn’t above our heads. If you give a guy a half hour to explain himself, chances are we’re going to get it. If you give him a ten-second sound bite, well, who’s fault is that?
Tucker Carlson complained today that Obama still hasn’t explained why he stayed in Rev. Wright’s church. Well, yes, Tucker, he actually has. Numerous times. Either you’re not listening or you’re waiting for another answer, one that is more palatable for you—like, “Yes, Tucker, you’re right. I should have walked out of the church. I should have dropped Wright like a hot potato. Yes, Tucker, you’re right.”
And patriotism. When did we start believing that patriotism could fit on a flag pin? What did people do before there were flag pins? Since when has it become part of our heritage to wear identical symbols? Isn’t that kind of antithetical to our image? Doesn’t that seem, I don’t know, kind of nationalistic, like wearing swastikas? As I’ve understood it, patriotism is one’s love of country. Does that mean that I need to wear some kind of pin to show I love my family too? What would that pin look like? How many pins do I have to wear?
I beg you, MSNBC, CNN, ABC (sorry, Fox, I just can’t bring myself to beg you)—give your pundits some time off. Remind them that this election isn’t a boxing match. It isn’t a spectacle. It is, perhaps, the most important election of our time. Treat the candidates, treat us with a little more respect.