No. 487: "Some Shun Fashion"
"I don't know, but I hear everyone in Tehran is taunting Ms. Sherkat, chanting, 'Shahla's got a boyfriend, Shahla's got a boyfriend …' "—Floyd Elliot
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Many responses alluded to this past Tuesday's presidential debate. This has been much commented on, but I would like to adddddddddddddd … sorry … dozed off there for a minute. Face down on the "d" key. It was like some kind of flashback to the tedium I felt during the actual debates. Scary. Let me just go splash some cold water on my face.
Here's the problem. They had two really boring guys debate. Oh, OK, technically one boring guy and one stupid guy. Shouldn't they have booked two lively and interesting guys for a show like this? It's not like they didn't have plenty of advanced notice.
Another problem—Jim Lehrer: All the excitement and verve invoked by those three letters—PBS—packed into his compact little frame. He showed his characteristic instinct for the dull and obvious question. Where were the challenging probes about race, about the death penalty, about drug policy (not for seniors, for cocaine fanciers), about the erosion of habeas corpus, about the shift of wealth from poor to rich, about what a crappy batch of movies the studios have churned out this past six months, about genetically altered food and cats. I think someone's done something to my cat. OK, maybe this last one isn't of general interest, but the point still holds: Lehrer/dull, my cat/peculiar.
The format itself, less a debate than a pair of parallel press conferences, guaranteed boredom. The candidates were forbidden to speak directly to one another. Huh?! Where's the challenge, the confrontation, the quick short jab to the solar plexus that leaves your rival gasping for breath and whimpering like a second-grader in a school-yard fight? Crybaby. Get up! You're not bleeding much. Daddy, I can't! Whew. Sorry. I'm OK. Let me go pour some cold water down my pants.
With their endless campaign appearances and TV ads, the candidates have ample opportunity to lay out their programs. The debates should be a chance to learn something new. Next week, I hope Lehrer will challenge the boys with some unexpected scenarios and ask how they'd respond. What happens when global warming gives us a summer with average temperatures of 150 degrees? Would monokinis be mandatory? Suppose some superintelligent bioengineered cats flood the country with counterfeit $20 bills in order to buy all the cat food they want, destroying our economy, and getting grotesquely obese and disgusting? What would you do about it, Mr. Leader? And if an alien spaceship lands on the White House lawn—maybe right on top of some cat that's too fat to scamper out of the way? What then?
Questions like these would force Bush and Gore away from their canned responses and show us how they'd meet the unexpected circumstances that come with the job. Then they ought to strip to the waist and fight with Bowie knives. I'd watch, and so would my bloated, woozy cat. It's not like there are any good movies out there for us to go to instead.
Sigheh is temporary marriage ratified by Islamic law.
Randy Cohen used to write Slate's "News Quiz." His most recent book—oh, like you don't know.