We should stop referring to the televised political side-show events as u201Cdebates,u201D and heed the words of Thomas Pynchon, who said: u201Cif they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.u201D
According to one of my dictionaries, a u201Cdebateu201D is u201Ca regulated discussion of a proposition between two matched sides.u201D Ron Paul is the only candidate offering points of view that would appeal to an intelligent mind. But where is the u201Cmatched sideu201D to his arguments? Even from those who strongly disagree with him, where is the response that matches the intellectual forcefulness of his analysis? Apart from desperately trying to ignore his political presence, where is there any opponent of his views who is able to rise above childish name-calling and engage the good doctor in a genuine debate?
There is no better illustration of the dismal depths to which social and political thinking in America has sunk than in some of the opening remarks of Chris Matthews and Rudy Giuliani at the recent GOP debate in Michigan. Early on, Matthews asked Giuliani to comment upon the prospects of New York Yankees’ manager Joe Torre returning to the team next year! Giuliani, of course, was more than happy to keep the discussion on such a prosaic level. I am surprised these two didn’t then spin into a prognosis of Britney Spears’ legal difficulties, a topic each would have preferred to those Ron Paul was to bring up.
In one of his blogs, James Ostrowski made an excellent point in saying that the mainstream media (MSM) u201Cignored Ron’s brilliant analysis because they are too shallow to understand what he said.u201D This is undoubtedly true for many, reflecting, perhaps, the emptiness of training in critical thought to be found in majoring in journalism. But this provides only a partial explanation. One must also consider the role the MSM has long been employed to play, namely, keeping Boobus Americanus entertained with the reporting of events whose import lays no burden upon the mind; to make certain — particularly in turbulent times such as these — that fundamental questions as to the form and content of political practices are not asked. Members of the media — responding to the demands of their employers — might, if the facts become sufficiently compelling to no longer be ignored, be willing to consider that the emperor has no clothes. None, however, would be brazen enough to join Ron Paul in suggesting that the empire, itself, might be naked!
A major role of the MSM is to reinforce, for adults, the conditioning that is the purpose of government schools regarding children. The truth of Ivan Illich’s observation that u201Cschool is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is,u201D is confirmed by the Los Angeles County government. Children must be taught, the County asserts, u201Cthat we are all part of one big social system,u201D and u201Cmust learn how to participate effectively in the system.u201D The end to be generated is, in the words of H.L. Mencken:
To manufacture an endless corps of sound Americans. A sound American is simply one who has put out of his mind all doubts and questionings, and who accepts instantly, and as incontrovertible gospel, the whole body of official doctrine of his day, whatever it may be and no matter how often it may change.
Any modification or redirection of that system will, of course, be made by its corporate owners, not by underlings who have the arrogance to believe that their will has any purpose to play in the grand design. Any doctrinal or policy changes will be announced through the system’s propagandizing agency, the MSM. Like Pavlovian dogs who await the ringing of a bell to excite their slobbering, Boobus sits in eager anticipation of the new bromides he is to incorporate into his modified world-view.
I don’t recall who it was who defined television as u201Cempty space held together by commercials,u201D but no better characterization has been offered. If this medium is to be the central source of public marching orders, how does the system assure that people will remain in rapt attention? The corporate world has its products to sell, while the state has its mindset to peddle, ends that conflate to a common purpose. Under the guise of dispensing u201Cnews,u201D television networks provide strings of superficially exciting, but meaningless, reports: freeway car-chases, problems confronting various celebrities, raging fires, the public bathroom behavior of politicians, or other u201Ceventsu201D that are more within the journalistic standards of the National Inquirer!
The segue from our school indoctrinations to those carried out in our adult lives are easy to spot, if one only pays attention to the details. The high-school cheerleaders who call upon the student body to u201Csupport the team!u201D as they go off to play Central High, are morphed into the Ann Coulters and Laura Ingrahams leaping to their television perches to urge u201Csupport the troops!u201D as they go off to Iraq. It is all the same game, played for the same purposes, with only the uniforms and next week’s opponent subject to change.
This is the Sisyphean struggle Ron Paul and his supporters are up against in trying to be heard within a system whose function is to propagandize the statist mindset. Many of the self-styled u201Cjournalistsu201D who content themselves with playing what, in my college broadcasting days, we referred to as the u201Crip-and-readu201D role, are too shallow to deal with ideas at any meaningful level. But others do have intelligent minds, and could — were they of a disposition to risk losing their jobs — engage the debate Paul requests.
Ron’s situation is not unlike that of the high-school student, Tammy, in the 1999 movie Election. It is time for school elections to be held and Tammy, a noticeable outsider at this school, decides to run for the meaningless job of school president. At a school assembly, each candidate encourages students to vote for them for all the vacuous reasons that have become synonymous with modern politics. Tammy, on the other hand, tells the students: u201CThe only promise that I will make is that if I’m elected I will immediately disband the student government so that nobody will ever have to sit through one of these stupid assemblies again!u201D Virtually the entire student body emits a loud cheer on her behalf. When the assembly is over, the school administrators retire to the principal’s office and decide that Tammy’s name must be removed from the ballot; that her views are too disruptive.
Ron Paul, like Tammy, is too disturbing of the interests of the established order. He must be placed at the end of the line of candidates — if, indeed, he is allowed to appear at all — and asked only the sorts of questions designed to make him look foolish. That audiences love his message is as irrelevant to the system’s owners as the students’ responses to Tammy’s platform were to the government school hierarchy. The u201Cdebateu201D must not be allowed to get out of hand by allowing members of the public to think that their preferences matter. The questions must be u201Creframedu201D to address such u201Cpracticalu201D and u201Cmainstreamu201D concerns as u201Cwho will manage the Yankees next year?u201D
Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law. He is the author of Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival.