One of the treasures of my home in exile is Town Hall Seattle, a setting that consistently holds intelligent and searching events featuring top authors, artists, scientists and other intellectuals. The audience is always smart, never boorish or full of thugs and trolls. The vital issues of the day are on the menu, the setting a restored majestic church downtown. That such a place not only exists outside of New York but is highly popular is almost enough to give one hope. But this is a very blue city that consistently ranks at or near the top in the nation for literacy.
A very different town hall will take place Tuesday night: The second presidential debate. As the New York Times reports, the format "is designed to be a little less stiff — a free-flowing question-and-answer session between the candidates and a studio audience." Get it: Studio audience. Not only is this "debate" actually highly scripted, it is intended to mimic the great god of Moronistan, the television. Please, let us trivialize what should the solemn obligation of learning real issues and acting as real citizens. Far better Donahue/Oprah/The View with pretend issues and a premium on treating Americans as stupid children. Wasn't it the first such "town hall debate" in 1992 when George H.W. Bush checked his watch? I felt his pain.
In the Obama/Romney version, we will see 80 participants "culled by Gallup...from a sample of uncommitted voters." Right there is what cops and crime-writers call "a tell." Uncommitted? Seriously? How could anyone be uncommitted or undecided in this election. Only people who are imbeciles. People who should not vote. I hearken back to Gore Vidal's famous line about 50 percent of Americans don't vote and 50 percent don't read a daily newspaper — and he hoped it was the same 50 percent. Today the number of actual readers is far lower. But we will have Messrs. Romney and Obama pandering to the duhs and the ignos, consumers not citizens.
Who wants to lay odds on the simpleton question we'll get first? "The deficit is really, really worrying me and I'm afraid for the children, so what is your plan to reduce it?" As if this defense contractor-worker, food stamp-user, Social Security-recipient really has a clue about macroeconomics, the causes of the deficit and debt, how it's not an immediate problem and really "solving" it would destroy the economy. But the question will probably be there. How quick before some suburban goober tosses an aggrieved pout about expensive gasoline. Cheap gas is an American birthright! And what will be the endearing, personalized and utterly useless answers?
We know some of what won't be asked.
Mr. President: Why didn't you use reconciliation to sidestep Republican filibusters and get more stimulus into the economy once it became clear that the situation was far more dire than (most of) your advisers believed? Why was your Justice Department unable to bring one bankster to trial, despite copious evidence of fraud bringing on the financial collapse? Why are you talking about fossil fuels; what's your plan for addressing climate change? Do you really believe we have "a hundred year supply of natural gas?" Based upon what objective data? Why did you sign a bill allowing for indefinite detention of American citizens and only issue a signing statement saying you wouldn't use it? Your successors could and will. Why are we still running up a $3 trillion tab on the wars begun by your predecessor? Can you stand here tonight and tell the American people that Afghanistan is a success or has a chance of success? Why did you throw the Secretary of State under the bus on Libya — Jack Kennedy wouldn't have done that.
Governor Romney, why won't you release 12 years of tax returns as your father did? What are you afraid of? This is especially pertinent because you are running to be the nation's chief magistrate, as was once said, and it appears you and your business ventures have especially benefited from tax dodges and havens, including offshore, as well as the very low rates for the rich. How can we trust a man who has been on both sides of so many important issues? You said you were "a severely conservative governor." What does that mean? Will you appoint justices to overturn Roe Vs. Wade? If so, what is your vision for women's reproductive choice issues? Would you also push for a federal ban of abortion in every state? How will science inform your administration's policies? Do you believe climate change is largely human caused? Why do we need to be spending trillions more on the military? Please tell us the specific threat we face? Will you sign the Ryan budget if it is passed by Congress? If not, what, specifically, do you not like about it? Why, with ridership at records, do you want to eliminate federal support for Amtrak but not for highways and the air travel system? What is your anti-poverty plan — and please don't say, "A job."
We won't hear any of this. Many, if not most Americans get politicians who speak to them like stupid children because they act the part. They want their big suburban house and endless driving and to buy cheap stuff at Wal-Mart while complaining about their diminishing fortunes. And too many are willing to believe "liberals and unions" are to blame. They don't know history. They don't know civics. They love denial. What climate change? They strut exceptionalism without owning that this also includes slavery; treaty-breaking, land theft and genocide against the Indians; a century of Jim Crow and lynchings, etc. "Conservatives" tell a better story. And Moronistan, a spoiled, ignorant and wicked people, might be ready to give this plutocratic-theocratic mob a chance to work its will way beyond anything W. dreamed.
I doubt that I can bear to watch the "debate." That this election is even close is frightening enough.
UPDATE: Quick post-debate analysis: Obama pretty much wiped the floor with Romney. Mitt's "gotcha" on Libya blew up disastrously in his face. Obama used the 47 percent at exactly the right moment. Some of the Qs were not as dumb as I feared. A few were. Obama's problem is whether Mitt's momentum, big money and the "I won't vote for a black man" is too much to overcome. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and his first debate was awful. Too bad this Obama didn't show up there.