Channel surfers exercise their itchy thumbs for three reasons: 1) To see what’s on TV; 2) To avoid commercials; or 3) To watch two things at one time.
It was to this last group I belonged last night when I clicked between the musical openings of the World Series and the third Republican debate, televised on CNBC. I must have flipped between the two montages to music eight times during the thirty or so seconds these grandiose introductions simultaneously unfolded.
Suddenly I had an epiphany—not the kind of epiphany when you see something new for the first time, but the epiphany is which something you already understand in an intellectual way reveals itself personally to you with raw emotional power.
The epiphany came as I pondered how similar the two openings were: The producers of both the World Series and the debate were saying practically the same thing using precisely the same visual, narrative and rhetorical techniques:
- Heroic and uplifting music that crescendos at the end.
- Montage of the people involved, in close-ups mostly taken at a low angle up to make the figure seem more daunting and powerful—a typical photo technique used to photograph rulers of authoritarian nations.
- Quick cutting between shots, with an acceleration of the pace of new shots as the piece progresses.
- Short, provocative statements from the people shown.
- Special effects that I would call “techno-corporate” in style, with rows of columns and architectural allusions, blocks of video and straight lines running across the frame.
- A ponderously stiff and stately attitude, as if the viewers are about to see history being made.
Aficionados of televised professional football games will recognize this approach to trying to get the audience excited about what they are about to see. It’s been used to introduce every televised professional football game for decades.
The epiphany then was the realization of how much the news media presents our political debates as an entertainment spectacle. To the mass media, a political debate is no different from a baseball or football game or a reality show based on a competition. The issues don’t matter, only the battle of wills between two, or in the case of the Republican debates, nine larger than life figures.
These nine candidates, however, are not titans, but little minds dedicated to enriching their larders and those of their sponsors. The debate itself was a dreary affair, except for those who like to see moderators or event leaders lose control, which happened a few times. The moderators once again tried to pit one candidate against another, and for the most part the candidates refrained from taking the debate bait. Two candidates did go after their peers. At the beginning, Kasich begged voters not to support the crazy amateurs, by whom he meant Trump and Carson. Jeb Bush lectured Marco Rubio like a stern high school teacher on Rubio’s poor Senate attendance. Rubio’s answer was evasively punky and pissy—that Jeb never went after McCain for his poor attendance—what you’d expect from a teenaged boy. But the media and the audience liked it.
The dreariest part of the debate was the tedious comparisons of the various tax plans. In every case, the candidate went out of his way to assure us that the rich were going to pay their fair share. An analysis of each plan, however reveals that all the candidates want the rich and the ultra-rich to pay significantly less in taxes than they do now.
Besides telling the same bold-faced lie that the wealthy will pay their fair share under their plans, the candidates make the same two conceptual mistakes. First, they assume that people who earn a million pay their fair share when they pay the same percentage of their income in taxes as do the middle class and poor. They forget that the government is providing the wealthy with more goods and services. Some examples: The middle class and poor don’t need the government to protect and assure the safe operation of financial markets and they don’t need the court system for commercial litigation. When the police protect property, they are protecting more of the property of the wealthy. Intellectual property law enforcement actually hurts the poor, while securing the rental rights of the wealthy.
The second fallacy is one of the fundamental principles of right-wing economics: If we lower taxes, the economy will grow. At this point, there have been so many studies disproving this false theory you’d think the Republicans would stop trying to present it. What’s so irritating about the Republican insistence that lowering taxes helps the economy is that it goes against common sense. To agree with the Republicans you have to believe that rich folk grow the economy more by investing in stocks, real estate and art than the government does when it spends all the tax dollars it collects on needed goods and services or gives it to organizations with employees for various other goods and services. The wealthy remove money from the economy, government pumps it in. Higher taxes for spending always help to grow the economy.
Carly Fiorina was the only one not to offer a plan to cut taxes, preferring to say that all the plans had merit, but what was needed was someone who could actually push a plan through. Carly implied that she was the gal to do it. After all, Fiorina was able to sell a very savvy board of directors on making one of the worst corporate acquisitions in American business history, so it should be a walk in the park for her to convince both houses of Congress to create a taxation system that is simpler and results in the wealthy and ultra-wealthy paying even less than the historically low amounts they now pay.
Unlike the World Series game, in which the Royals trounced the Mets, I’m not sure if there was a clear winner among Republicans in the third debate. I am suspicious of media speculation that Rubio or Cruz won. The mainstream media like Rubio and Cruz because they can’t like Jeb Bush anymore. Jeb almost disappeared from the proceedings, leaving these two first-term Senators from Southern states as the most prominent and highest ranking contenders not named Carson or Trump. But “highest ranking” doesn’t mean either is popular with voters.