Tonight, Oct. 7, Kamala Harris, the nominee for vice president on the Democratic ticket for president of the United States, and Mike Pence, the current vice president on the Republican ticket for president of the United States, had a debate tonight.
It was perfectly fine. There was a fly on Mike Pence’s white dome of hair for an obscene amount of time, and for which, five different viral Twitter accounts spawned corresponding Tweets, and a rapid-fire Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden Tweet and website to encourage voting.
Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today, asked good questions, and handled the job within its parameters fine. (I would note into the void here, that the Commission on Presidential Debates is awful and should be uh, decommissioned. There’s a lot to dislike about how presidential, and in this case, vice presidential debates are handled. In particular, I will note that this idea of doing segmented questions, like on COVID-19, the economy, the Supreme Court, criminal justice, the age of the candidates, and so on, is a false premise. All of these things are interwoven, and also, hinder organic discussion. Instead of being regimented from question to question, let’s have a real deep dive into policy.)
Pence and Harris largely avoided answering Page’s questions, and it was a remarkable sight to behold. But even so, there was policy talk about COVID-19, jobs, foreign policy, taxes, the Supreme Court, the criminal justice system and so on, as well as questions about the health of those at the top of the ticket, and temperament.
But it was fine. Normal. Frustrating. Bad in places. Boring, if you’re not a political junkie like me, as someone who enjoys it, and aren’t getting paid to watch it (bravo to you then!).
Normal, though. That debate is the epitome of how it ought to be. That’s politics. Politics is frustrating when politicians, impressive as they may be with their stoic faces and rehearsed lines, act like politicians by dodging direct questions and talking about what they want to talk about. Politicians are frustrating when they lie. Politicians in general are frustrating. It’s also bad in the sense that a lot of what politicians obfuscate on and refuse to discuss are policies that are bad and harmful to real human beings, or, in the event Biden/Harris won the day or Trump/Pence received a second term, would be bad, if implemented. People forget that there are real humans at the end of these policy implementations. And it’s boring, if you’re not a political junkie and don’t know much about wonky policy disputes. In general, people find politics, as presented in this way, boring.
This, folks, is how politics is supposed to be. No, not some panacea that makes everything better. No, not some false notion of “civility” that ignores the Bad Stuff. But just normal. Normal political disputes between people disagreeing about policies. Contrast that with last week’s presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. Whatever you think of politics or who you favor, everyone agreed that it was an unmitigated disaster and embarrassment to watch.
Aren’t you ready to get back to normal? That’s the window here. A world where we get back, hopefully, to vigorously and vehemently, passionately and honestly, debating policy again rather than, well, the big orange elephant in the room. Even if the layman will still be bedazzled by character and cultural war stuff, the normal cultural war stuff and the normal character stuff (and character matters!) is better than, well, the orange elephant in the room.
Again, whatever your political persuasion, you may think the “status quo” of pre-2015 politics was awful, and I agree with you! But if we can’t get back to even that baseline, we’re in trouble.
If you watched tonight’s debate, which VP debates are almost always inconsequential, and walked away thinking, “That was boring,” and think the “boring” part is a bad thing, then you’re doing it wrong. Turning our politics into literal reality TV infotainment has been the problem. The less we turn politics into theater, team sports, boxing, whatever your analogy is, the better. The less we turn politics into revolving around the cult following of one or more people, the better.
2021: Make Politics Boring Again. Boring doesn’t mean we disengage or that there aren’t bad things happening affecting real people in real ways. Let’s vigorously have those discussions. But goodness, let’s get back to a normal baseline in which to do it.