I sometimes enjoy fooling people regarding my age. If I’m well rested, wearing the right colors, and my makeup is fresh I am able to masquerade as someone who is a bit younger than I actually am. I am generally able to get by with pretending to be in my fifties rather than my sixties but I give away my deception whenever I begin to speak about the events that I have witnessed in my life. The reality is that I am only a couple of years younger than the two individuals who are running for President of the United States. They are my peers and sadly both of their campaigns remind me far too much of high schoolers hoping to secure my vote by offering goodies and changes that will probably never happen.
One of them is the class blowhard and bully, the same kind of guy who stomped on my photo with his shoe and proclaimed that nobody liked me. The other is the girl with the fake smile on her face who would say anything to get my vote and that of my classmates but in reality only ran to achieve a taste of power. Even as a gangly teenager I understood that politics was often a game and that those speeches that we heard inside the gym were crafted to attract our interest just enough to secure our votes, hot air that most of us would forget once the winner was ensconced in office.
I remember watching the debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon back in the nineteen sixties. I wasn’t old enough to vote but I was curious to learn more about the handsome Catholic who seemed to be a very different kind of politician than the stodgy old men who had traditionally run for office. The discussions between Kennedy and Nixon were intellectual and meaningful and I was so fascinated that I became a political observer forevermore. The camera loved Kennedy and showcased his natural charisma and optimistic sense of humor. Unfortunately for Nixon it revealed all of his physical and emotional flaws, making his arguments secondary to the overall impression that he made. Still, that first debate was not a circus but a serious analysis of the issues and it set the standard for all future televised encounters between candidates.
Over time politicians and their handlers learned how to game the debates. They became more of a spectacle and less of an effort to outline the real differences between candidates. In most cases the members of the electorate rarely changed their votes based on what they heard in those encounters between candidates. We the people realized that one moment in time was not nearly enough to define an individual and so we watched more for the whimsey than to learn anything new.
For the most part the great debates became rather boring production numbers. Only now and again did a candidate do something so egregious that it turned the tide in a tight race. When President George H. W. Bush glanced at his watch during his debate with Bill Clinton it sent a message that he was bored and thought himself above his opponent. It became the last straw in the unraveling of his presidency and a moment that many remembered when they went to the polls. Mostly though the debates have only influenced a small proportion of the voters of late. They serve little purpose other than to reinforce the support of those who have already decided which way to lean. They rarely change minds.
I have to admit that I was rather disappointed in the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. It felt more like a marital dispute between and a man and woman who had grown to despise one another. I had already heard every soundbite that each of them proclaimed and found their snark and digs to be annoying and cloying. There really was no substance to any of their plans. Each of them dreams big but can’t really explain how to successfully fund the programs that they espouse. Our country is deeply in debt and neither candidate addressed ways to eliminate the growing economic crisis that will surely hit us if we continue to ignore the fact that we can’t afford all of the things that we do. The reality is that lowering taxes and building a wall will not work anymore than raising taxes on the wealthy will pay for college for everyone. The numbers simply don’t balance in our national checkbook. The sad truth is that we need a combination of both austerity and more income from all of the people but in today’s political climate it is far too unpopular to suggest that we might have to make sacrifices to get our house back in order.
At the moment our choices lean toward two extremes when what we really need is a bit of both platforms. Each candidate possesses some ideas of merit and some that are so far out that they will hopefully never come to pass. Sadly it is out of fashion to be moderate, something that Bill Clinton was masterful at doing. Today the outrageous is in fashion. If I were running my plans would incorporate a wide spectrum of ideas designed to move our country forward together, not as splintered as it has become. Therein lies my gravest concerns for our future. Frankly I don’t believe that either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton care as much about the nation as they do about themselves. Neither is up to the standards of the job but hopefully the winner will learn how to really be responsible.
The good news is that we have had some rather nondescript presidents in the past, men who didn’t quite measure up to Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt or Reagan. We’ve seen real crooks like Nixon and misguided policymakers like Hoover. We have made it through assassinations and impeachments. We have endured the good, the bad, and the ugly time and again. I simply don’t believe that any one person will destroy the democracy that we have. We will make it one way or another and somewhere on the horizon a real leader will eventually emerge.
Ours is a complex government in which no one person may become a dictator. As long as the members of Congress uphold their duties and the Supreme Court rules for the good of the nation rather than their personal political leanings we will continue to be strong. Who knows how the eventual winner of this contest will adapt to the office. The weight of presidential responsibilities has certainly changed many men for the better in the past. I would like to believe that I will be pleasantly surprised regardless of the outcome in November.
In the meantime I doubt that I have the patience to tune in to any more debates. They are simply a mashup of sound and fury signifying nothing. There is little point to spending ninety minutes hearing the same talking points over and over again. It is simply time for me to consider all of the pros and cons, vote according to my own conscience and then hope for the best for the country that I so love.