The ornaments go back in their boxes: This year’s debates belong to the ages!
With the quadrennial series done, pundits are putting their debate-story ornaments back in their musty old boxes.
Every four years, they drag them out—the utterly silly stories they tell about Great Moments in Past Debates. They memorize these mandated tales, then rattle them every four years.
Last Tuesday, in the New York Times, Jeremy Peters rattled off one of their absolute favorites. This ridiculous, hoary old tale never goes out of fashion:
PETERS (10/16/12): Though organizers have taken many steps to minimize surprises, town hall debates have produced some of the more memorable and mockable campaign moments. Often candidates seem to get tripped up by the freedom of motion the format allows.Candidate Bush stole a glance at his watch! By the way, did “critics and comedians” seize on this act “as evidence that he was detached and dismissive?”
It was during the 1992 town hall hosted by Carole Simpson that President George Bush was caught looking at his watch. And this was no mere peek. He stood up from his stool, raised his arm so he could see his wrist and then adjusted his pants, a move critics and comedians alike seized on as evidence that he was detached and dismissive.
Actually, no—our journalists did! And this is the point of our post.
Peters’ piece was accompanied by a truly remarkable graphic. The graphic relates these hoary old tales in the most foolish way we've ever seen.
At the top of his graphic, Peters blames his ridiculous stories on Michael Beschloss, handsome alleged historian star of the PBS NewsHour. In fairness, there’s no way of knowing what Beschloss actually said to Peters.
But good God! Peters’ listing of Great Debate Moments is so completely absurd that it cries out for preservation.
Keep this graphic in your files. Be sure to note one special aspect of its standardized nonsense:
In the text of his graphic, Peters moves beyond the usual suspects. He includes several Great Debate Moments which come from the press corps’ B-list.
At the same time, he seems to claim that these tiny events were “pivotal” in their respective campaigns. In the case of the 1980 Reagan-Carter debate, note the wonderful way he provides the “evidence” for this implausible claim:
PETERS: In Carter’s lone 1980 debate, some heard a know-it-all tenor when he hit the affable Reagan for his “simple answers.”Some heard a know-it-all tenor!
Peters doesn’t say who these people were. Nor does he try to state their numbers. But twenty years later, in Campaign 2000, “some” were at it again:
PETERS: Al Gore adopted a professorial tone in two of his 2000 debates, but some saw condescension. He pointedly asked a question intended to entrap Bush: “What about the Dingell-Norwood bill?This time, some saw something! Some saw condescension in the very bad thing Gore said!
"Some" were seeing and hearing things when the hopefuls debated. And by now, these folk had been reaching such judgments for forty years! All the way back in 1960, “some” were already seeing things when our first debates occurred:
PETERS: Nixon had a reputation as a hatchet man (his running mate, Henry Cabot Lodge, told him, “You have to erase the assassin image.”) Thus he began gently: “The things Senator Kennedy has said tonight, many of us can agree with.” But some saw this as a tacit admission that Kennedy’s critique was justified."Some" were already on the scene at those first debates!
Who were these guys—these “some?” Whoever they were, they kept seeing and hearing things down through the years, whenever the mastodons battled. Nor have these people ceased to function, as we learn in the musing which follows.
“Some” may still be on the scene, to judge from this absurd speculation:
PETERS: Kennedy’s clinical approach would likely not fly now. Sensitive about his relative youth, he compensated by being formal and almost stiff. Today this could be seen as aloof and humorless, but it worked for the times—he stood up to Nixon and showed gravitas. In later campaigns, Nixon refused to debate.Today, Kennedy’s approach could be seen as aloof. Presumably, “some” might see it like that!
We’re making a fairly obvious point. When the children repeat these hoary old tales, there is rarely any real evidence that voters reacted to these gestures in the manner described. In fact, these Famous Old Tales of Past Debates are almost always press corps concoctions. They’re silly stories the corps has invented to advance theories they like.
Guess what? No one knows if voters were troubled when Bush stole that dastardly glance at his watch! That is a story the press corps enjoys' it let's them advance a favorite tale. (President Bush was out of touch!) And because they like telling the story so much, they have to find a way to claim that the pointless event actually made a difference.
In all honesty, Peters is telling a series of novels. By invoking Beschloss, he pretends that he’s giving us history. And there’s nothing so foolish that Peters won’t say it.
Through this sort of consummate nonsense, he proves he belongs to the guild:
PETERS: Kennedy permitted himself to smirk ever so slightly as Nixon spoke. This worked—it was subtle and stopped short of blatant disrespect. The overconfident Nixon, unschooled in TV techniques, was famously caught on camera with eyes darting nervously.Kennedy smirked—but he only did so “ever so slightly.” But so what? By some sort of magic, Peters can tell us that the trick “worked!" And he tells us all about Nixon’s “famous” behavior as well:
Nixon was “famously caught on camera!” We’ll guess that “some” may have caught him!
The low IQ of America’s press corps is a national security problem. Already, people are dead all over the world because of their incessant games.
Despite this fact, guild members are constantly looking for ways to get even dumber. Has anyone ever told these tales as dumbly as Peters just did?
He told these tales in the New York Times. Some say the Times is our dumbest newspaper.
But alas! When it comes to this major employer, career players won’t tell the truth.
A note about Dingell-Norwood: In Gore’s “professorial” exchange with Bush, the contents of the Dingell-Norwood bill were clearly explained.
The bill concerned Americans’ health care—the so-called “patients’ bill of rights.” As such, that exchange between those candidates involved matters of life and death.
But Sam and Cokie went on TV and laughed until they cried. “Dingell-Norwood” sounded funny to them. And of course, because they were wealthy, they already had great insurance.
Those horrible people snickered and sneered, turning this into a B-list tale. Last week, a junior guild member told this tale in the dumbest way yet.