18 October 2010

Inclusive debates 'waste' small minds' time

Andrew Cuomo and Carl Paladino, the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor of New York, have agreed to share a stage at Hofstra University with five independent rivals for an inclusive gubernatorial debate tonight. Appearing alongside the Bipolarchy candidates will be Charles Barron, the Freedom Party candidate, Kristin Davis of the Anti-Prohibition Party, Howie Hawkins of the Greens, Jimmy McMillan of the Rent is 2 Damn High Party and Libertarian candidate Warren Redlich.

The debate announcement has compelled Troy Record city editor James V. Franco to notice the alternatives to Andrew Cuomo he had ignored in his previous column last week, when he claimed that Paladino's apparent implosion left the state without alternatives to "the same ole' Albany" represented by the Democrat. You might expect Franco to express relief upon discovering that more choices exist. Instead, his attitude toward the five independents is unapologetically contemptuous. Since the five "have no chance at winning anything," Franco concludes that "the debate's format is an exercise in futility" that "doesn't do the voters any good." That's because, even though "all six long-and no-shots [will take] pot shots at Cuomo,...we're not going to hear Cuomo's ideas questioned and challenged by candidates who have their own real ideas about fixing Albany. Rather, precious time will be wasted talking about legalizing prostitution [by Davis, presumably] and rent prices in New York City [McMillan, obviously]."

Howie Hawkins and Warren Redlich in particular will be shocked to learn that they have no "real ideas about fixing Albany," while Davis and McMillan may ask who James Franco is to decide what the meaningful issues are in the gubernatorial campaign. Franco's diatribe exposes him as a reactionary interested only in an ideal debate between Cuomo and anti-Cuomo. He claimed last week that he wanted someone who could have "shaken things up" in Albany, and had rooted for the ostensible outsider Paladino for that reason, but outsiders, whatever their potential for shaking things up, have remarkably limited appeal for Franco when they lack the Republican brand name. Only by becoming part of the establishment, apparently, can an outsider hope to shake the establishment up.

Franco repeatedly (if grudgingly) acknowledges the independent candidates' right to recognition as equals to the Bipolarchy candidates. But every acknowledgment leads into a dismissal of the Hofstra debate. "Yes, each of the candidates did get the required number of signatures to appear on the ballot and as such should be afforded the same opportunities as any other candidate," he states solemnly, "but the debate is going to be one waste of 90 minutes." An inclusive debate will be a "circus," or "entertainment rivaling the depth of a sit com."

The joint appearances we call "debates" today often are circuses, but comparing them to sitcoms may be too generous as estimate of their entertainment value. Lincoln and Douglas would have agreed to sneer at the format, which has reached the point of degeneracy when candidates are required to answer certain questions in less than one minute. The debate process should be reconsidered -- a round-robin format of one-on-ones might be the ideal. Franco proposes that New York State "adopt a commission to establish a debate's parameters -- kind of like they do with presidential debates." That can mean only one thing: excluding independent candidates from high-profile media events until they reach a popularity threshold most likely attainable only through high-profile media exposure. He'd restrict debates to those candidates who have what he'd consider a realistic chance of winning, when debates should ideally help give every candidate a more realistic chance. Franco's attitude is spiteful and defeatist. He clearly felt, for who knows what reasons, that Paladino was the only real alternative this year. Convinced now of Paladino's failure, he seems to think that the rest of us shouldn't have alternatives either.


Anonymous said...

Maybe he's simply confused by the idea that there might be more than 2 sides to any given issue. Typical reactionary thinking - "what I agree with and what I disagree with".

Just further evidence of the dumbing down of America.

d.eris said...

I guess I spoke too soon when I stated over the weekend that newspapers and columnists upstate seemed less contemptuous of the inclusive debate than their downstate counterparts.