You'd think I was making it up, if there wasn't videotape. And, you know, ten years of the exact same behavior preceding it. Monday, on MSNBC:
['MSNBC Live' anchor Contessa Brewer]: It's interesting, though, because you always have this question that erupts around election time: Who would you rather have a beer with? And so, it's not just what the candidates are saying to appeal to folks -- they want to be seen as the guy or the gal next door -- but they also have to do it. So, we've seen these candidates now in Pennsylvania -- here's Hillary Clinton doing shots in a bar. And then we have video of Barack Obama tossing back a Yuengling, which, anybody who's been to Philadelphia knows they're very proud of their local beer out there. How important is the video? I mean, if -- do these pictures really speak a thousand words, Jon?
[Reuters Washington correspondent Jon Decker]: They do. And let's not forget Barack Obama bowling. You know, this cuts to "is this person real? Do they connect with me as a voter?" You know, for someone who's in a bowling league in northeast central Pennsylvania, in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, they can't identify with someone getting a 37 over seven frames.
My first reaction was the sensible one: to pray to God to please kill me, immediately. Preferably by meteor. But one of the defining characteristics of my life is that God just isn't that into me, and/or all the meteors are already spoken for, so it never works.
In lieu of divine homicide, then, I suppose the only other avenue left is to try to pry some sense from the nonsense. So here goes: what you see, above, is the defense of the petty, the vapid and the embarrassingly trivial as valid "news", worthy of actual air time. The premise goes like this: the news media reports some minor absurdity about the race. Various pundits go on television to tell Americans how the latest triviality should make them "feel". Ten times as many pundits appear to analyze what would happen if Americans actually felt that way. Then comes the man-on-the-street interviews to see if people really do "feel" that way, and regardless of what actually gets said, by how many, the hypothesis is pronounced correct, or at least "newsworthy". (Note: the definition of "newsworthy" is simply "something we felt like putting on television." This could be a story about Abu Ghraib, or a story about a cat that has learned to ride a skateboard, or a story about what Robert Novak thinks about something. It is, in other words a meaningless phrase.)
Then George W. Bush and a half dozen cabinet members in some back room somewhere authorize the torture of prisoners in U.S. custody, but we can't pay attention to that because we've all got to decide whether we want a president with good bowling scores.
Where did we get this notion that the President of the United States should be a drinking buddy? Where did we get the notion that the strongest nation on earth should be led by a folksy, easy-to-like drunk? I don't mean where did the country get this notion, I mean when did the media decide that this was a valid measure of a leader, something worth endlessly discussing, and analyzing, and tittering over? When facing down the leader of a rogue nation in a series of intense negotiations, I don't want the guy shooting pool at the corner bar, I want someone with a head for the job, for God's sake, and I don't give a rats ass if he likes buffalo wings, or bowling, or can smash an empty beer can on his head. (A point of trivia: the first President to try to smash a beer can on his head was John Quincy Adams. Unfortunately, beer cans did not exist back then, only kegs, so Adams gave himself a hell of a concussion attempting the feat.)
Yes, we all understand that, if no other information about a candidate is forthcoming, voters will attempt to divine a candidate's values, positions or general worth from whatever minor points of familiarity can be gleaned. This is human nature; this is how uninformed voters vote. But when that happens, that is a failure of our Democracy, not a strength. There is little excuse for not knowing the positions of candidates after two dozen Democratic debates and a passel of Republican ones, and when each candidate has more than an ample record of past records and statements -- regardless, though, how on earth did we reach the point where the news media themselves seize upon the trivialities and petty trinkets of the campaign as themselves as or more meaningful than the actual political positions and records of the candidates?
Yes, there are uninformed, dull-witted voters in the world, people who will decide who to vote for based on choice of beer. But why -- why, in the name of all that is holy, and several things that are not -- would the political media itself, presumably the group of people most informed about the actual issues of governance riding on each election, choose to celebrate that lack of substantive information and instead wallow in the meaningless?
What, is it a game? Laziness? Ineptitude? Stupidity? Most people who read this site know my own opinion, by now: it is a little of each of those things, but mostly it is institutional stupidity, a stupidity and vapidity enforced by a lack of corporate will or resources to fill the news day with anything more significant. Placing a talking head on television is, compared to covering any news story at all -- especially one that might require leaving the office -- free. It costs nothing more than a camera, a microphone, and the willingness to say whatever enters your head and pronounce it sufficiently pundacious.
In addition, and more troublingly, the shift in the attitudes of those that cover politics continues unabated, and with ever more ridiculous affectations. Political reporters no longer consider themselves observers, or balances to counter the powerful; they consider themselves an integral part of the political game itself. We are barraged constantly with the spin coming from every election camp -- and the spin itself is reported as the story. It is not enough even to report that spin, anymore; now the airwaves are filled with the actual spinners themselves, presenting the absurdity of the day directly to the audience without the noisome filters of reportage or fact checking or impartial rebuttal. The spectacle of debate is the story, not the thing actually being debated. The thing actually being debated, whatever it may be, is just the pointless MacGuffin around which two opposing sides can be booked to scream at each other for a few minutes between commercials.
Even torture is now nothing more than a MacGuffin for the two sides, now. Domestic espionage? Governmental corruption? An astonishing corruption of the Department of Justice itself? Merely trivialities around which two sides can be booked for boisterous, vapid debate.
Talk about elitism: when, exactly, did we get to the point where an assortment of multimillionares can vie, every four years, for the title of most folksy, and most "common", and have the attempts reported with a straight face by the most supposedly intelligent and insightful political minds available? Are we serious? Watching a set of multimillionaires competing desperately to each appear the most down to earth, the most folksy and hick, challenging each other with increasingly "common" costumes, extolling the virtues of barbecue and hot dogs and grits, admiring the local sports team in every individual state they visit; admit it, it is hilarious. It is one of the few contests the rich have, among themselves, that the rest of us get to enjoy as well, for watching a lifetime establishment insider play dress up, and watching them play act as they pretend to be what they see us as being, namely complete and utter rubes, more obsessed with our backyard grills than the fates of our own jobs -- that is a fine play indeed, if you are into truly dark humor.
But we have perfected the game. Now we can watch dozens upon dozens of supposedly intelligent, jaded political reporters tool around the country after them, reporting on their gamesmanship and faux-folksiness with earnest expressions, reporting on their latest diner visits and photographs with puppies -- now that is the game within the game. The politicians consider us rubes. The press consider us rubes, too. And so they work together to tell us how we should feel, when the play is performed for us, and how we should feel when something goes off-script, and they are even generous enough to reuse the same storylines from one election to the next, so we do not damage our poor, piteous brains by having to relearn what we are supposed to think about the elitist, effeminate Democrat, or the foreign policy gravitas-having Republican.
Good God, it is impossible to express how insulted we should be that the guardians of our discourse think this is the only political slop worth serving us.
Very well; I give up. If, as the Reuters correspondent declares, common America has no hope of identifying with someone getting a poor bowling score, then the answer seems obvious. We must quantify how much "connection with the voters" is possible, given a particular score in the sport: this will then allow us to wallow freely in our own idiocy, not bothering the pitiable higher-ups of government or the press with our incessant demands for any more substantive information or knowledge. I therefore suggest the following crude measures of a man, so that the people of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre will not be left in cruel emotional limbo, unable to find an emotional bond with their candidates.
A score of 100 should be the minimum: if a candidate can bowl over 100, after practicing for a week, that signifies that they have the minimal personal integrity worthy of office. They are suitable for heading a lesser government agency, or an ambassadorship.
If a candidate can top 150, they show true intellect, and are worthy of at least a cabinet position. 170 indicates fortitude in the face of adversity, indicating perhaps a position in the defense department is in order. 180 signifies that their tax returns are in order.
If a candidate achieves a score over 200, that means that they are faithful to their spouse. A score over 220 furthermore indicates a loving relationship, and not just a marriage of convenience. A score over 225 signals that they have the love of their children as well, and that their children are free of drugs or unfortunate homosexual tendencies.
A bowling score of 240 or above shows a candidate as capable of leadership. It also testifies to a good relationship between with their God; the presidency may be viable. 250, the typical score of devout Protestants, cinches the deal, indicating God loves them back. A second term may be in order.
A score of 260 indicates competent fiscal management abilities; if they achieve this score on a league night, managerial competence is also likely. Bowling an impressive 270 is a sign of great foreign policy capabilities, possibly including past war hero status. At 280, you can expect a balanced budged to be achieved, as well as at least one great speech about the evils of communism.
A score of 290 will win a war, probably without a nuclear exchange.
And what of the perfect game, the elusive 300? Ah, my children, that indeed shows true greatness. In the entire history of the Republic, only one President has been a 300 bowler: none other than the Emancipator, the great Abraham Lincoln himself.
Because it was Abraham Lincoln's hard-fought perfect game, achieved in the dead of one cold and bitter winter's night, that allowed him to free the slaves.