debates and descents

A few thoughts on the debate quick. Visually, I thought Fox’s dual screen was a little odd, since this presents a “composition” and “balance” problem, inviting juxtaposition. Sen Kerry is taller that W by about 4 or 5 inches. So, in the side by side W had to be raised a little so that his lectern was a few inches higher than Kerry’s.

The farce was uninteresting substantively, in my mind, although I guess one could argue that each segment could be taken as a lesson on “delivery.” Kerry, however, came off visually as poised, controlled, and calm and reflective. W on the other hand came off visually as angry, frazzled, fumblesome, staring, and inept in his obvious repetition of arbitrary loaded phrases.

“. . . group of folks . . .” Wow.

6 thoughts on “debates and descents

  1. gibb

    I think that, as we’ve learned in many art and literature studies, two people can look at the same image, “read” the same text, and yet interpret them in completely conflicting ways.

  2. Maureen

    Kerry never lost his cool. He answered Bush’s attacks with his own thoughtful commentary on the failures of the Bush Administration.

    Kerry came off like the wise father and Bush was the fumbling inexperienced son…

    Brilliant that Kerry used Bush’s father’s words against him…that even the elder Bush realized the quagmire Iraq would become….

    Bush kept repeating himself..falling back on simple bumper sticker “Wrong war at the wrong time and the wrong place”..He also kept asserting that Kerry would not support or does not support the troops and so on… Bush was really did not have any well thought out answers..

    Even if you are a diehard have to acknowledge that Reagan did a better job lo’ those many years ago…Bush comes off as a novice…

    Kerry was masterful. My advice is to stay on target..Let Bush hang himself with his “Uh ums” and other fumblings… I thought this debate was going to be absurd, but now I have hope for Kerry. :)

    Most Graciously,

    *A Mayde in her own little woode…

  3. Katherine Nowakowski

    In your comments about W you forgot to mention how he often would childishly start his rebuttal before Kerry was even done speaking not even waiting for permission from the mediator. This is proof that he wasn’t even listening to Kerry because he was too busy scrambling in his own head for something to say.

    Other times, he never even really answered the question posed to him, but turned it into a “let me pat myself on the back” speech. When faced with the question (which I can’t quote exactly) If John Kerry wins this election do you believe he will be effective at preventing another terrorist attack in on the U.S.?…pat, I’m gonna win this election…pat, Look at everything I’ve done…pat, I’m so great and you know it…pat, pat, pat.

    My husband Joe and I had some great belly laughs when W blinked so many times at Jim Lehr we thought we saw his neurons busting before our very eyes.

    Both candidates took notes, although W looked more like he was doodling. I wonder if it was an unflattering caricature of Kerry to help boost his ego.

    Can you guess what side I’m on?

  4. Maureen

    Katharine, indeed Bush came off as arrogant when he said he would win the election..Hmm, but then he did win it the last time without a majority of the popular vote, so maybe he knows something we don’t….

  5. Christopher

    Jon Stewart’s take on the note taking was a clip of a notepad and “Kerry” writing “I’m so kicking his ass”. I laughed out loud at that one.

    The 3rd debate should be interesting.

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debates and descents

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.

4 thoughts on “debates and descents

  1. gibb

    Since my vote is normally heavily dependent upon my impression of these debates, I followed your links, then went off on my own to find the “real” rules. These is them!

    My initial response is that ground rules are needed. This also echos my thoughts:

    “Some of the rules might seem a tad trivial for presidential debates, but Diana Carlin, a political debate expert at the University of Kansas, said there are sound reasons for each and every rule. Everything in that negotiated agreement is there because somebody had a problem in a past debate as a result of some of these things,” she said. “The whole point is to minimize the risk.” (Palm Beach Post

    Nader, meanwhile, feels that there are secret contracts made between the commission and the two major political parties:

    And while I did not read carefully through all 32 pages (did you?) and there are things I’d like to know, the debates still seem a level above what is said at the campaigns and in written prepared speeches.

    Must wonder however, at the visual quality of this version of the rules, which does seem to be the only one available on the internet. Does seem like someone’s idea of a bad joke…

  2. steve

    The commission is basically a two-party creation meant to benefit the parties not the people. basically goes into the commission pretty well. This is not Parliament.

  3. Maureen

    What it comes down to is that these debates will not be debates at all. Indeed, the viewer loses. Where is the spontaniety? In the end, we will get bigger “soundbites” but no greater insight. As some commentators have noted, the only thing that may make an impact is how the candidates look or if one makes a major gaffe.

    Another point, do viewers really want a real debate? Or, would they find that too distateful or mean-spirited? I am all for being polite and gracious, but we do have to get to the real man. How can you do that when everything is already rehearsed and planned beforehand?

    Most Graciously,

    *A Mayde in her own little early fall woode…

  4. Maureen

    Wow, I too just checked out the typeface on the document that lists the “rules” for the debate. It looks like circa 1972. It looks like it was created on a typewriter. Strange….

    Most Graciously,

    *A Mayde in her own little early fall woode…

Comments are closed.