A Debate on Fast-Forward

Carolyn Washburn, editor of the Des Moines Register, re-enacted the role of a kinder and gentler version of the nun in the movie The Blues Brothers, minus the habit,  as she moderated yesterday's Republican Presidential debate in Iowa. 

In a split screen format, FOX News occasionally displayed a streaming line graph of a Frank Luntz focus group's approval,  suggestive of the electronic device measuring vital signs in an Intensive Care Unit.   Had it been tracking the zest level of the event, it would have run flat line throughout most of the... well, it was labeled a "debate."  But it was more a topical smorgasbord where the diners, speakers and listeners alike moved down the serving line on roller skates, piling topics on their trays.  It was a spoonful of beans, half a peach, a chicken wing, small scoop of potato salad -- all in all, a menu for mental indigestion.  Following the flow of topics proved the Heisenberg Theory which postulated that you can't take a photo of an electron because it's moved by the time you trigger the camera.      

This was no fault of the candidates.  They were just following the rules, except for Fred Thompson, who showed more energy in this debate than in previous performances.  The highlight of the event was Thompson refusing to raise his hand to indicate whether he believed global warming is a serious threat caused by human activity.  "I'm not doing hand shows today," Thompson said. 

Sister Washburn wouldn't give him a minute to answer, so he refused to answer.  In houses all across America, folks must have applauded, because if these debates have accomplished anything, they've trivialized several serious issues by condensing answers to 15-60 seconds.   Imagine Winston Churchill limited to a 15 second response as to why it was important not to appease Hitler.  Jesus' Sermon the Mount would have been, "Just do good, okay?" 

Then Ms. Washburn allowed Senator McCain a minute to respond on global warming.  After that, chaos reigned around that topic.

Alan Keyes, newly returned to the debates it seems, offered several interesting moments by making impassioned mini-speeches only tangentially related, if at all, to the topic being discussed.   Some of the folks at home listening to him must have said "Huh?" after his statements. 

With the exception of a couple of laughs, the live audience seemed dead.  Perhaps they feared a collective rap across the knuckles if they reacted to the candidates.  Or perhaps they were mentally sprinting to keep up with the shift in topics.  Or, maybe they were just trying to conserve energy to stay warm in post-ice storm Iowa. 

Did we learn anything new about the candidates? We learned that Alan Keyes is wired tight, still energized by his losing campaign in Illinois against Barak Obama for that senate seat.  But small numbers of people, those who previously paid attention to Keyes,  already knew that. We might have learned something important, except that several significant statements flew by at warp speed: McCain will make us energy independent in five years.  Thompson said the biggest barrier to advances in education is the teachers' union.  He's not courting their votes.  There were broad tax suggestions, but I coughed a couple of times and missed them.

Last time it was the Anderson Cooper/CNN ambush; this time it was a "debate" on speed.  When will the innovative, serious adults take charge of this vetting process?   
Carolyn Washburn, editor of the Des Moines Register, re-enacted the role of a kinder and gentler version of the nun in the movie The Blues Brothers, minus the habit,  as she moderated yesterday's Republican Presidential debate in Iowa. 

In a split screen format, FOX News occasionally displayed a streaming line graph of a Frank Luntz focus group's approval,  suggestive of the electronic device measuring vital signs in an Intensive Care Unit.   Had it been tracking the zest level of the event, it would have run flat line throughout most of the... well, it was labeled a "debate."  But it was more a topical smorgasbord where the diners, speakers and listeners alike moved down the serving line on roller skates, piling topics on their trays.  It was a spoonful of beans, half a peach, a chicken wing, small scoop of potato salad -- all in all, a menu for mental indigestion.  Following the flow of topics proved the Heisenberg Theory which postulated that you can't take a photo of an electron because it's moved by the time you trigger the camera.      

This was no fault of the candidates.  They were just following the rules, except for Fred Thompson, who showed more energy in this debate than in previous performances.  The highlight of the event was Thompson refusing to raise his hand to indicate whether he believed global warming is a serious threat caused by human activity.  "I'm not doing hand shows today," Thompson said. 

Sister Washburn wouldn't give him a minute to answer, so he refused to answer.  In houses all across America, folks must have applauded, because if these debates have accomplished anything, they've trivialized several serious issues by condensing answers to 15-60 seconds.   Imagine Winston Churchill limited to a 15 second response as to why it was important not to appease Hitler.  Jesus' Sermon the Mount would have been, "Just do good, okay?" 

Then Ms. Washburn allowed Senator McCain a minute to respond on global warming.  After that, chaos reigned around that topic.

Alan Keyes, newly returned to the debates it seems, offered several interesting moments by making impassioned mini-speeches only tangentially related, if at all, to the topic being discussed.   Some of the folks at home listening to him must have said "Huh?" after his statements. 

With the exception of a couple of laughs, the live audience seemed dead.  Perhaps they feared a collective rap across the knuckles if they reacted to the candidates.  Or perhaps they were mentally sprinting to keep up with the shift in topics.  Or, maybe they were just trying to conserve energy to stay warm in post-ice storm Iowa. 

Did we learn anything new about the candidates? We learned that Alan Keyes is wired tight, still energized by his losing campaign in Illinois against Barak Obama for that senate seat.  But small numbers of people, those who previously paid attention to Keyes,  already knew that. We might have learned something important, except that several significant statements flew by at warp speed: McCain will make us energy independent in five years.  Thompson said the biggest barrier to advances in education is the teachers' union.  He's not courting their votes.  There were broad tax suggestions, but I coughed a couple of times and missed them.

Last time it was the Anderson Cooper/CNN ambush; this time it was a "debate" on speed.  When will the innovative, serious adults take charge of this vetting process?