If you’re a political junkie, you might actually be excited about seeing Barack Obama and Mitt Romney hold the joint media appearance tonight that we’ve been conditioned to call a debate. If you’re not a political junkie, you’ve probably been flooded with news stories and commentary that imply every good citizen ought to be watching.
Well, I won’t be watching. I didn’t watch any of the joint circus appearances during the GOP primaries and I haven’t watched the presidential and vice presidential debates so far. I’ve been told that I’m “uninformed” because I don’t watch these things, but I’m not terribly concerned. I won’t be watching. Here’s why.
First, I don’t believe in the majoritarian system, so why would I feel obliged to participate in this farce? I don’t believe in the moral legitimacy of a system that claims the right to control us, so why would I lend it my respect by paying attention?
Second, taking this farce seriously implies that there’s a real choice. There’s not. Yes, these two candidates have a few issues on which they disagree, but when it comes to the vast majority of issues — thing such as the legitimacy of government control over individuals, the acceptability of killing innocent civilians in countries that haven’t even attacked us and the legality of locking people up without trial if a president orders it — these guys are on the same page.
I disagree with Noam Chomsky philosophically, but he was correct when he addressed the narrow range of acceptable political debate: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum — even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”
That’s what we’re seeing. We see vicious argument between partisans of the two parties, but the range within which they argue is very, very narrow. Other views are completely ignored. You won’t see candidates of any other parties on stage with the Red and Blue candidates tonight, will you?
Third, you can’t believe what the candidates say during campaigns anyway. Let’s be honest. They will say or do anything to win election. Once they’re in office, they’ll ignore whatever they want to ignore. Remember George H.W. Bush’s famous “read my lips, no new taxes” pledge during the campaign? How did that work out when he actually raised taxes as president? And remember candidate Obama promising four years ago to get out of Afghanistan and shut down the military prison at Guantanamo? The president with the Nobel Peace Prize hasn’t exactly lived up to his promises.
So why would you watch tonight?
Some people say they need to watch to decide who to vote for, but if you haven’t figured out who to vote for by now, why in the world would a few more dozen lies by each side in a media appearance help you decide? Some people say they just watch for entertainment. If that’s you, all I can say is that you have a stronger stomach than I do.
I won’t be watching tonight. I see no reason to. I see every reason to check out of the system and pay attention to real life instead. It’s up to you, of course, but I recommend you quit paying attention to the farce and quit pretending it matters.