I had work to do and couldn't watch last night's Presidential debate in real time, so I recorded it to watch later. Then, when it came time to watch the darn thing, I just didn't have the heart to do it. It had been a stressful and sometimes painful day, why should I end it by spending an hour and a half in the company of two people I am actually starting to despise? I took the relatively painless option of watching clips from it as the talking heads discussed the debate.
That is when I found out that instead of defending market institutions against Obama's Big Lie that our current mess was caused by the Bush administration's (non-existent) orgy of deregulation, John McCain offered another $300 billion in government handouts -- this time to people with foreclosed mortgages.
From my point of view, one of the things Republicans sometimes offer that has real value is a somewhat more free-market, non-interventionist point of view than the Democrats. McCain is obviously not serving that purpose at all. Nor does he have the elementary good sense to take up one of the many okay-pal-you-asked-for-it opportunities, repeatedly offered by Obama's Big Lie tactic, to point out that it was the regulatory policies backed by Obama's Democratic colleagues, especially their stroking and pampering of their beloved Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, that did as much as any other single factor to cause the housing meltdown and the banking mess.
How did we end up with two such lousy major party candidates? The glaring problem with Obama, in my opinion, is just the one that has been pointed out so many times already. Though a legislator, he did not write any laws you had ever heard of before you sat down and read an article the proved that, well, he did write some.
We could quibble forever about the details, but one thing seems pretty clear: it is difficult, if not impossible, to think of a major party candidate from past elections who was as light on experience and achievements as Obama. In the past, someone with that profile of characteristics would simply not have been nominated. What has changed? McCain was also an odd choice. Here we are after six years of a massively unpopular war, and the party responsible for it chose to nominate the most imperialistic and warlike of all its potential candidates. How do we explain this weird behavior?
Actually, I think there is a simple explanation: the process by which candidates are chosen has changed. When I was a kid, the candidate was chosen at a party convention by party workers and professional politicians, and the president was chosen by the voters. Now, because of widespread primary elections, both choices are made by voters.
What we have now is a more purely democratic system, whereas it formerly represented a balanced combination of democracy and, in effect, oligarchy. It did not work very well, but at least it gave us candidates like Eisenhower and Stevenson. Now we get candidates like McCain and Obama. We have moved from candidates chosen by professionals to ones chosen by amateurs. Notice that of the two most recent Presidents, one had no brain and the other had no spine. Obviously, this sort of thing will keep happening unless the system changes (which it won't). Like they say, if you keep doing what you do, you'll keep getting what you get. Look for more candidates who satisfy the hankerings, biases, flawed information, and cognitive limitations of plain folk. Look forward to a stream of demogogues, incompetents, suave con artists, moral idiots, and charming phonies. Don't expect things to get any better. In fact, as government becomes a more and more important part of our lives, do expect things in general to get worse.