I remember as a child, sitting in my sixth grade U.S. history class, listening as the teacher droned on and on about events that I believed had nothing to do with me. I guess that I assumed that if it had already happened, it had little relevance to me. Simply water under the bridge…right? Luckily, at some point, I figured out that it had everything to do with me. Someone once said that it is impossible to move forward without knowing where you have already been. Our nation’s history provides us with a perfect road map as our journey continues. If we follow it closely, we will be less likely to hit the same potholes and dead ends that have already been navigated by our predecessors. But, unfortunately, many of us share that same mentality that I had as a sixth grader.
Maybe the pothole has been filled, so let’s journey down that road one more time. Maybe, the street is no longer a dead end destination; perhaps someone has extended it to allow for further travel. Maybe they simply did it wrong, and as we are much wiser than they, we will get it right this time. Maybe, but not likely. And, to make matters worse, we even have some who attempt to change what was actually a success based on past history. I, like many others, have watched this Presidential campaign with great interest. Somewhere along the way, our current method of choosing a leader has become less of a campaign and more of a vaudeville act. I recall the history lessons that taught us about the great debates that were put on during Abraham Lincoln’s time. A back and forth frank discussion between Lincoln and Douglas about the issues that faced the country and how they, if elected, would reacts to those problems. Those events, as were others in our nation’s history, were truly indicative of what a debate is supposed to be. Somewhere along the way, we got away from the typical debates and did not revisit this type of format until the late fifties and sixties. When we did, it was still a very civilized, issues oriented, attempt to identify that candidate who had the better grasp on the problems of that particular time. Boring…perhaps, but actually very informative. Shortly after the return to the debate platforms, something went terribly wrong.
Actually, several things went wrong. The first of these was the addition of television to the mix. This should have been a good thing. It should have provided a real chance to get the word out to the largest group of people so that they could make an intelligent choice on Election Day. But, with the mix of television ratings and overzealous moderators looking to grandstand in their own right, and a detour from real issues versus sound bites, it began and has continued to deteriorate into nothing short of a circus. However, television is not the only culprit here. The change from a few well-placed debates to having one every week for a year and a half, spotlighting 10 or 12 candidates who are jockeying for the spotlight like an American Idol audition have made the current debate platform laughable. The only thing that we have learned, after the first two or three debates, is just how far some of these candidates will go to cut the throat of a fellow party member for their own good. So much for the Reagan mantra of never criticizing a fellow republican. These guys not only have no problem with criticizing, they would be willing to burn their opponents at the stakes if it moved them up in the polls a point or two.
What we are left with is two hours of a bad Dean Martin roast. However, the consequences of these roasts go well beyond the antics of Dean Martin and Don Rickles and their light-hearted ribbing of each other. In these roasts, it is every man and woman for themselves and nothing is off limits. Nothing! Their careers, their personal lives, their family, their children’s family, their batting average on their little league team, and whether or not they ever listened to a tune by Jimmy Hendricks. The horror!
Maybe this is a time where we should once again reflect on our past. The debate style of the past is not as exciting as we demand in this fast paced world that we now live in, but it just might produce a candidate that is most qualified to lead our country at a time where great leadership has never been more needed. In our current style, we are creating bruised and battered relationships among what is supposed to be our party’s very best that will take years to heal. It is possible that old Abe had it right? A serious conversation about issues, with all sides of the issues being discussed, and at the end of the day; a hand shake among the participants. Is that tired old format that we heard so much about in our history classes completely irrelevant taboo in our current political system?
So what we are left with, after a year or so is four candidates, who are all bleeding and limping badly, sunburned by the constant exposure to television lights, all uttering blasphemy after blasphemy toward whoever the front runner of the day might be, and in a format where everything is shouted rather than spoken, and in an environment where the truth really is not a perquisite of the statements being made. Oh wait, there is one candidate who is standing tall, not a bruise on his body, who is right there at the top in the polls and has somewhat of an advantage on the rest of the field. You might have heard of him. He currently resides in the White House and he is having a ball so far watching the bloodbath that we are providing.
It obviously doesn’t matter anymore about ethics, morals, or leadership. And, ability is a trait that is no longer necessarily required. It’s all about the polls baby! Whatever it takes. That is how you get elected in this country. Where are old Abe and a history book when you need them? I think it is way past the time for a short review.
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Stan L. Hall is the former (retired) director of the Victim Witness Program for the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office.