22 October 2010

An exclusive Senatorial debate and a rhetorical question

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat appointed by the governor of New York to fill the vacancy created by Hilary Clinton's elevation to the State Department, and one of her challengers for the remaining two years of Clinton's term, Republican Joseph DioGuardi, held a one-hour debate in Troy last night. It was a dull affair with mostly predictable answers to predictable questions. A low point seemed to come during a "lightning round," when the candidates were obliged to give yes or no answers to a rapid succession of questions. Some questions were suited to the rule, and some were intended for laughs, e.g., "Is the rent too damn high?" In the midst of the flurry, my ears perked up when the moderator asked, "Should Andrew Cuomo and Carl Paladino hold a one-on-one debate?" DioGuardi said yes. Gillibrand said no. Then DioGuardi ad-libbed, "We are."

It was a succinct exchange of honest exclusionary impulse and hypocrisy. Whether Gillibrand meant to say that any future gubernatorial debate should also include the five independent candidates, or that Cuomo was under no obligation to debate Paladino alone, her opposition to the idea was put in contrast to her own participation in an exclusive debate. DioGuardi's affirmative answer, meanwhile, was a blunt endorsement of the exclusionary principle.

Last night's debate organizers had, in fact, excluded four independent candidates for Gillibrand's seat. Vivia Morgan is the candidate of the Anti-Prohibition party; she supports the legalization of casinos and marijuana as well as tax cuts for working people and businesses alike. Cecile Lawrence, the Green candidate, wants to end American subsidies for polluting corporations, an 85% reduction in American military presence abroad, single-payer national health insurance, and free undergraduate college education for all Americans who graduate high school. John Clifton, the Libertarian candidate, also wants to bring the troops home, but would also end the "war on drugs," along with the IRS and the Federal Reserve. Finally, the Rent is 2 Damn High party has Joseph Huff on the ballot, but the candidate's website was recently shut down, and this interview from September expresses his ambivalence about associating with James McMillan. To my knowledge, Charles Barron's Freedom Party is not running a candidate against Gillibrand, who is herself endorsed by the Independence and Working Families parties. DioGuardi appears on the Conservative and Taxpayers lines.

Can anyone who watched last night's debate argue that more "ideas" were expressed or exchanged between the two Bipolarchy candidates than were expressed at Monday's inclusive gubernatorial debate? At best, biased observers can claim that they heard more of the ideas they consider legitimate or viable, but what they've really wanted all along in every race is a clear, simple presentation of the candidates already determined to have a "real chance" of winning, hardly considering that it should be up to them, as viewers of an inclusive debate, to decide afterwards which candidates have real chances. Too many Americans are still concerned more about being on the winning team or betting on the winning horse than with making the best choice or simply expressing their own reasoned preferences. They're afraid of feeling like fools for picking someone without a "real" chance of winning, even within the privacy of the secret ballot. Why they don't feel more foolish constantly shuttling back and forth, if they're "independent," between the two big parties, is to date an unsolved mystery.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It occurs to me that part of a solution might simply to create an election law stating that any given candidate is allowed to appear only on 1 line.