Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A YouTube Debate: Ridiculous

How deep have we become mired in artificial (computer technology once was referred to as "artificial intelligence") superficiality?
Last night's CNN/YouTube Democratic Presidential debate was shallow, inspid, a stunt. Nevertheless, I am pretentious enough to comment on some of the questions and responses (my comments in parentheses).

Zach Kempf in Provo, Utah, before lapsing into his 128-word question: "What's up? I'm running out of tape. I have to hurry." (Are we really interested in Zach's schedule?)

Unidentified (third questioner): "All of you say you'll be able to work with Republicans. Well, here's a test..." (O.K,. I get it- you're the teacher, the one with the knowledge, and we're the uninformed students.)

Unidentified questioner: "Is (sic) African-Americans ever going to get reparations for slavery? I know you all are going to run around this question, dipping and dodging, so let's see how far you all can get." (Wrong. Three candidates were queried- Edwards and Richardson against, Kucinich in favor.)
Mary and Jen: "If you were elected President of the United States, would you allow us to be married to each other?" Good question, and after the response of Dennis Kucinich and before those of Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson, host Anderson Cooper helpfully rephrased the question: "Senator Dodd, you supported the Defense of Marriage Act. What's your position?" An even better question would have been: "Senators Dodd and Biden, you alone among the candidates were in the United States Senate at the time President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act. Were you right to support a bill which in part defined marriage as strictly between a man and a woman?"
Mitch from Philadelphia, before implying in his 116-word question that he's opposed to a pullout from Iraq: "Are we watching the same blankin' war? I certainly wasn't a big fan of the invasion/liberation..." (Please, tell us more about your "blankin" anger.)

Unidentified questioner, mother of an American soldier: "How many more soldiers must die while these political games continue in our government?..." (What exactly are these "political games?" And who is playing them? Are, say, George W. Bush, General Petraeus, and John Murtha "playing games?")

Unidentified questioner: "Dear Presidential candidates, see those flags over my shoulder? They covered the coffins of my grandfather, my father, and my oldest son. Someday, mine will join them..." And how many family members do you have serving in uniform?" (John McCain served; so did Jim Webb. Note to Chris Matthews and others: service in the military does not bind someone to a pro- or anti- war position.)
Another "questioner": "Hey, there, my name's Jackie Broyles. And I'm Dunlap." (went on to ask numerous questions about Al Gore in a Southern accent- Aren't we so impressed with ourselves making fun of Southerners?)

Anderson Cooper: "Senator Obama, are the soldiers dying in vain?" (Anderson, these folks are running for President of the United States. None of them is going to say American soldiers are dying in vain, so I regret that you are being denied participation in the sound bite of the century... True, Senator Gravel stated that the soldiers are dying in vain, but he can afford to be honest, given that he's not going to be nominated for President, Vice-President, or anything else. The former Alaska Senator could form his own political party- and be denied its nomination.)

Sheena Currell: "I'm from (inaudible), South Carolina. Who was your favorite teacher and why? (And what's your favorite color?)

Jered Townsend from Clio, Michigan: "Tell me your position on gun control, as myself and other Americans really want to know if our babies are safe. (Brandishing a rife) this is my baby, purchased under the 1994 gun ban. Tell me your views on gun control." Joe Biden, pithily: "I'll tell you what, if that is his baby, he needs help." A good moment, which obscures the likelihood that a meaningful answer could have been elicited if the debate sponsors hadn't gone for the cheap and dramatic visual with the outrageous characterization of a weapon (allegedly illegally obtained) as a baby. Rather, the candidates should have been asked their views on registration, straw purchases, and/or other specifics about gun control; or asked how an effective gun control measure, one which is not circumvented as the questioner bragged he had, can be enacted.

And Senator Biden had the best comment of them all, in response to the question from Jason Koop (is this guy related to C. Everett Koop?) of Colorado Springs: "... I would like for each of you to look to the candidate to your left and tell the audience one thing you like and one thing you dislike about that particular candidate. And remember, be honest." (Because as we all know, politicans always are honest when you tell them to be.) "Dennis (Kucinich) and I have been friends for twenty-five years. I think this is a ridiculous exercise." He didn't mean it in regard to the format of the debate itself, but could have.

This is not to say that the questioners are vacuous, thoughtless, or even especially self-indulgent. Other debates have included from the public questions which were on-point, eliciting somewhat revealing answers. The problem is with the YouTube format. Sure, it's possible that this silly superficiality is the wave of the future. But why now? You want a sound system for your car that not only is technologically advanced, but which works. And if your car tires are the latest in technology, but haven't been tested, I don't want to be your passenger.

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