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Campaign Debates Meet American Gladiator



International stock markets experienced a shocking drop today, to levels not seen since September 2001. The world economy is sagging badly under the weight of the impending recession in this nation. Investors abroad and at home are signalling a profound lack of confidence in proposals to take immediate steps to improve the situation. Neighbors are losing their homes. Parents are losing their jobs. People — investors, voters, citizens of planet earth — are desperately searching for a leader who can guide us back to balance, to sanity, to peace.

Wouldn’t you think that in this perilous global economic moment, the candidates for president of the United States would be focused like laser beams on solving the problem? Tonight, searching for some encouragement on this economic gloom, I turned on the debate among the three leading Democratic candidates in South Carolina.

Now, mind you, I don’t have much time to watch TV, so all these years I’ve neglected the chore of getting cable. But tonight’s debate was being broadcast on CNN, so what’s a TV Luddite to do? Never fear, I simply logged onto and watched the webcast of the debate. But, as I did so, I absentmindedly left my humble little television with its paltry four channels on in the background. And, having done so, I unexpectedly beheld a split-screen metaphor for our political and cultural lives today.

on_tv.gifon_tv.gif0125caimg.jpgOn my computer screen, rather than witnessing a high-minded discussion of the best ways to rescue the global economy from looming catastrophe, I beheld a shameful mud-slinging match among the major Democratic candidates. On the television screen, as if choreographed to go along with the “Smash! Bang! Slam!” tone of the debate, I watched men and women in spandex and helmets wrestle-bounce-punch and otherwise behave like children on a set filled with gigantic foam cubes. I think the show was called “American Gladiator.” I’m sure it’s popular. As I listened to the debate while watching the pseudo-gladiators writhe around the foam set, I wondered what the candidates might look like in those outfits.

Sorry, don’t mean to be disrespectful, just bemoaning the spectacle of serious leaders pandering to the American thirst for blood. There’s no need for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to be scratching each other’s eyes out on who-said-what like some schoolyard spat. But both have “handlers” coaching them to be more aggressive, show no vulnerability, respond with strength because that’s what the voters/viewers want. If it’s not fun to watch, you’ll lose viewers to that other show!

You have to believe that there are people out there who are just loving the spectacle of the first serious African American and female candidates for president going after each other in increasingly personal ways. I doubt that the people who enjoy this spectacle the most will vote for either one.  (CNN.COM reports that its website was deluged with protests from readers complaining that its story “Race or Gender?” on the purported dilemma facing Black women voters was patronizing, racist and sexist, suggesting that Black women can’t make up their minds independently of personal characteristics.)

I didn’t hear much illuminating or encouraging tonight. In the campaign thus far, there’s far too much personal attack, personal claims of past accomplishment, and not nearly enough focus on what this nation needs for the future on the most serious issues of our time. The economy is no joke — the war might seem far away, serious though it is, but the jobs and the homes and the bank accounts and pension funds are right here.

The candidates on all sides owe it to the citizens they say they want to represent to improve the tone of this campaign and focus on what’s important. Leave “American Gladiator” to the entertainers.

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
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