by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
October 8, 2008
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- I'm thinking of taking a lot of Valium until the elections are over.
Maybe it's because I didn't grow up watching sports on television, or maybe I'm just a coward, but I can't take the tension of this year's campaign. Real lives, real dollars and real dreams are at stake. Our future is at stake. On both the state and national level, this is not a comedy show. This is not a popularity contest. This is not a game.
The political debates have become ridiculous. They are carefully controlled two-minute question-and-answer sound bites with tiny follow-up sound bites. The candidates never speak directly to one other. They never explore complex questions. They never give nuanced responses. They never have a chance to show us how they think on their feet. They never show us their hearts.
The first presidential debate put me into an emotional tailspin. Barack Obama was smooth and cool, but I could see how very angry John McCain has become.
In my opinion, McCain would make a disastrous president. But I was trying to see the debate through the eyes of the average Americans who watch "American Idol." Would they be able to recognize the rigid, failed yet forceful old-school warrior that McCain has become? Would they appreciate Obama's flexibility and willingness to listen and learn? I didn't know. So as McCain hit one American cliche after another - he's a maverick, haven't you heard? - I despaired.
Then I went to the Vermont gubernatorial debate at the Austine School.
Now, I'm someone who is convinced that the only thing Governor Jim Douglas has done successfully for the past six years is maintain power. By manicuring the status quo, Slick Jim has kept progress at bay and himself employed.
At the debate, Douglas was your typical Republican - shiny and exfoliated. He wore an American flag on his lapel and spoke in measured phrases. He was more than willing to lie and easily took credit for other people's ideas.
His Democratic opponent, Gaye Symington, is an intellectual, a policy wonk and an introvert. Nothing is more painful than watching her try to be a public speaker. Douglas's record is out there for anyone to attack, but she can't bring herself to attack it. She can't even defend herself when Douglas - wrongly - attacks her. She seems mired in good manners.
Independent Anthony Pollina has made some bad decisions during the course of his campaign, and I have come to doubt his judgment. But as a debater he's witty, smooth, cool, natural, unafraid and full of ideas. He even defended Symington after Douglas wrongly blamed her - and her alone -for an education funding law.
The debate left me bewildered and discouraged. Pollina can't win and Symington can't speak. Match and game - two more years of Douglas.
If I barely kept my sanity during the first presidential debate, you can imagine how disturbed I was going into the most-watched vice-presidential debate in history - the one between the incredibly telegenic Governor Sarah Palin and Senator Joe Biden.
Now, I don't care that Palin is a woman. And I don't understand why the pundits say that liberal women like me don't know what to do with her. I know exactly what to do with her. She's George W. Bush with breasts. Give her a reality show and get on with it.
The first time Palin winked at the camera, I had to turn off the debate. Instead, I watched season two of "Dexter" on DVD. A television drama about a serial killer drenched in blood was preferable to imagining that the American people might be buying Palin's act.
The second presidential debate, a few days ago, found me cringing on the couch. (This time, the drinking game should have been based on "My friends." McCain used it in almost every sentence.)
This time McCain wasn't angry, but he certainly chose to ignore reality. In what alternate universe has this man, whose entire campaign is being run by lobbyists, taken on "the special interests?" "America is the greatest force for peace in the world?" Really? Has he talked to the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iraq?
Meanwhile, Obama's smoothness didn't hide the mealy-mouthed, center-of-the-road positions he has now embraced. Once the great harbinger of hope and change, he now supports nuclear power without even considering the impossibility of storing nuclear waste, and he won't support universal health care, which is the only rational, common sense solution to a disastrous medical system. He's become Bill Clinton redux, Republican lite. But even that is better than McCain.
I'm not sure my heart can take another debate.
My husband, who enjoys politics as blood sport, laughs at my reactions. But then, he's confident that Obama will win, while my Capra-esque belief in the American public is shaky, to say the least.
I tell myself that Americans have finally turned their backs on Bush. They have admitted that the war in Iraq was a mistake. They are starting to understand the terrible moral damage we have done through torture. Last week they rose up as one over the Wall Street bailout - rose up and shouted "No!" even though their voices were ignored.
With one more debate coming up, Obama is winning at the polls. But the split should be 90 percent to 10 percent with no one undecided, and I can't understand why it's not.
So hold on to your hats and pass me the Valium. Anything can happen in the next four weeks.
Joyce Marcel is a columnist and journalist who lives in Dummerston. Learn more about her at joycemarcel.com.