With thoughts about balcony failure: In the 1990s, as a comedian, we entertained the national convention of a major group from the construction industry.
The theme of their four-day conference was this: "Balcony failure." We often think about that group, and about the work they successfully do, when we read the work of the political wing of our fatuous national press corps.
We'll explain the connection below. For today, consider yesterday's Washington Post, which was filled with the remarkably childish thoughts of our journalistic elite.
The journalists were looking ahead to tonight's presidential debate. As the journalists looked ahead, the childishness was general. For one example of many, consider the op-ed column by Kathleen Parker, who hails from the less ridiculous wing of the national press corps.
How childish, how silly, are the members of this peculiar guild? In the part of her column shown below, Parker seemed to explain how the public should view tonight's debate and assess the candidates in it:
PARKER (9/25/16): Everything you need to know for Monday’s debate, you learned in high school—how to size up a person, get their gist, seek their weak spot and watch closely how they handle themselves in the tightest sort of squeeze—exposed as 200 million eyeballs (that’s assuming two per person) are watching.Parker was willing to make a concession. "Yes, of course, the answers [to the moderator's questions] matter," she managed to say, very much in passing. But tonight's debate is really about sizing the candidates up, "getting [the candidates'] gist."
Yes, of course, the answers matter, but at this point in our 24/7/365 election cycle, the last laps are about persistence, strength, self-control and one’s own humanity. Out here in the bleachers, human nature rules the ward. An angry country fed up with pretty much everything can’t be seduced or persuaded by a fraud or a fake. There just isn’t any patience left for that sort of thing. The courtship is long over.
Showing viewers who they really are is all that’s left. This, I think, is where people are today. The moderator who can get to the core of the individual rather than simply elicit yet another rote recitation of either facts or nonsense, as the case may be, will have provided a public service indeed.
"Showing viewers who they really are is all that’s left," the columnist said. Continuing, she offered some "somewhat silly" thoughts:
PARKER (continuing directly): So who are Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?According to Parker, this is an exercise in sizing up who the candidates really are, perhaps through their body language. A sag of the shoulders might tip you off! So says this Pulitzer winner.
We know their résumés. We know their histories. We know their foibles and weaknesses. But do we know their characters? Clinton has asked who the American people want to answer that 3 a.m. call. In past campaigns, other questions have arisen. With whom would you leave your children? With whom would you like to grab a beer?
These are somewhat silly questions, obviously, but human beings aren’t so terribly complex after all. Most people think they’re pretty good judges of character. Most times, they can’t put a finger on what precisely tips the scale or sends the signal that this or that person is a mover or a maker.
It may be a simple gesture, a slight movement at a specific time, a tightening of the jaw, a sag of the shoulder, eyes that can’t stay with you. Or it can be something more discreet—an absence of presence, a missing something you sense rather than see.
Let's repeat an important fact. Parker actually hails from the less silly wing of the nation's political press corps. That said, Parker was talking about who you'd like to have a beer with, possibly based on your assessment of a twitch of the shoulder or jaw.
Parker never says a word about the things the hopefuls might actually say about major matters of substance. Continuing, she closes her column like this:
PARKER (continuing directly): This is why polls aren’t the final word—or debates, so full of words, the endgame. Whatever Clinton and Trump do say, Monday night will likely be more about watching than listening—and who these two are seen to be.Never mind the words they say! This event will turn on who the candidates "are seen to be," perhaps from that twitch of the jaw or the shoulders.
A defender of the faith might say we're being unfair to Parker. Such a person might say that Parker isn't recommending this childish approach to tonight's event. She's simply describing what viewers will do, such a person might say.
Is Kathleen Parker simply saying that this is how viewers will function tonight? We can't say it's entirely clear from her silly-bill text.
Earlier in her column, she seemed to offer an upbeat assessment of what viewers already know. We'll take one of whatever she's having!
PARKER: Is anyone really going to change his or her mind based on what the candidates say Monday as opposed to what they said last week? Trump lovers are set in stone, as are Clinton haters. That’s one voting bloc. Clinton supporters (I don’t think there are many lovers around) are solid and entrenched, as are those who find Trump utterly unfit to be president.On the planet where Parker lives, "questions of substance have been asked hundreds of times in a variety of forums." She seems to think that voters have heard the answers to these questions. She seems to suggest that voters have those answers down cold.
It’s all over but for showing up at the polls.
Thus, the debate won’t really be about substance. It will be a popcorn-and-brew event—entertainment pure and simple. To the extent there’s a contest, it will be one of senior superlatives. Who’s smartest? Funniest? Quickest? Deepest? Most important, whose voice do you want to listen to for the next four years?
Questions of substance—who is going to keep us safe, build our economy, stanch the flow of immigrants, rally the troops, protect the innocent and elderly—have been asked hundreds of times in a variety of forums.
What will make this or any other debate any different? What would sway the swayable, whoever those poor people are?
For that reason, all that's left is that body language! It will help undecided voters figure out who the candidates really are!
What is Parker recommending in this peculiar column? Is she recommending that voters evaluate the candidates based on this evening's twitches? Or is she simply saying that this is what will occur?
From her careless, who-gives-a-flip text, it isn't easy to say. We'll only note that she tickles every low-IQ key in the insider pundit's tired old playbook while avoiding all matters of substance.
She says nothing, nothing at all, about any substantive topic. She offers no serious thoughts about how a voter might be able to assess either candidate's "character."
Instead, she talks about who you'd like to have a beer with and who you want to listen to for the next four years. She mentions the popcorn we voters will eat during tonight's entertainment event. She adopts the flippant, feckless tone which so frequently seems to emerge from the pampered, privileged, overpaid specimens who pretend to be our nation's political press corps.
Might we offer an alternate view? In our view, there has never been a presidential campaign so devoid of discussion of matters of substance. How many voters, Parker included, could possibly answer this question:
What has Candidate Trump proposed in his formal budget proposal?
What has Trump proposed in his budget proposal? The answer to that unanswerable question would take the form of a question:
Which one? Which of Trump's formal budget proposals are we talking about?
This embarrassing presidential campaign has been inane, empty, silly, shapeless, stupid, embarrassing, dumb. Except on the planet where journalists live! On that planet, voters know what has been proposed by the candidates! Secure in that knowledge, voters will check for Who They Are based on their shoulder twitches.
Or something! We emerged from this piece with no clear idea of what Parker was saying.
Kathleen Parker is part of a guild whose members are almost inhumanly silly. They have long conducted their work in remarkably feckless ways. They've sometimes been called "Antoinettes," a gendered but evocative term.
Yesterday, their nonsense was everywhere in the Washington Post. It was strewn all over the side of Outlook. It was on the op-ed page, in the front-page news reporting.
It made us think, as we often do, about the topic of "balcony failure."
Our technology and construction sectors are remarkably capable. Like you, we've never walked on a balcony and had it fall off the side of the building.
In part, that's because industry groups conduct four-day conferences built around the topic of "balcony failure." But make no mistake:
If construction elites conducted themselves in the way the Parker bunch does, there wouldn't be a balcony left anywhere in the country.
They all would have fallen off by now. The very concept of a balcony would no longer exist.
Many professional and industry sectors do extremely reliable work. Our political journalists seem to come from a whole different realm. They're feckless, useless, childish, silly. Everything you need to know you learned in high school, one of their less fatuous members has now quite predictably said.