I finished skimming the agreed upon rules for upcoming events between Bush and Kerry posted here in pdf format (which is itself politics). Something strikes me as weird about the agreement and the look of the document it rests on. It looks like an image of a typed document, as if it must be presented to look old, official, fixed, just beyond the ability to cut and paste as text, as if it it weren’t meant to be “text,” but an image of “text.” It reads like a joke, a parody of how things “should” work, as if it had been written by John Stewart or Sir John Falstaff on behalf of Hal. So this is the state of affairs.
As a student of rhetoric and politics in a lot of forms and times, I have to admit that such an agreement, such debates, such decisions make me sick and embarrassed. In Composition we’re talking about evaluation, and we could certainly bring the art of evaluation–making claims and discussing ho w a thing meets criteria–against the “memorandum of understanding” is really a “memorandum for obfuscation and trickery.”
What should debates look like, what is the criteria against which they should be judged? A debate should have a clear context and reason. It should be flexible and open so that debaters can show their depth of knowledge, wit, familiarity with evidence and issues, and their ability to think on their feet. It should be combative yet controlled, but that control should come from the interlocutors’ knowledge of “situational” ethics and rules of debate. They should be allowed to contradict, raise questions, and ask for clarifications. The moderator should control equivocation, interrupt filibuster. Questioners should be free to ask whatever they want so that the wit reveals itself. We need the mind in the open to some degree, better that than nothing at all.
In this time of political cliches and pixel-sized scrutiny of every candidate and day to day media memory loss and the bottom line of news as business, in this day of colorless yak and actors acting like newspeople, of commentators whose mouths spray strychnine and campylobacter, of bureaucratized party politics filled with cynics and losers and robots, in this space of smiling lies and blood for more of them we are often not what we say we are. Democracy? No. Something else. I don’t know if democracy is the right term, since I know people who could argue that such a term is imprecise and was “always” false. We’re a federal republic, a cyborg running on batteries. We may be a shadow looking for a form.
The “memorandum” is a “paradise” document; it’s a lie; an immoral scam; a blow to decent, reasonable people who try to do the right thing day to day in this country and who deserve better.