One of the consequences of last night's presidential debate was that I overcooked the applesauce. You would think maybe I should follow the advice of both candidates and act responsibly with the apples, an untapped national resource which arrive in large bags every week from the farm share I belong to. Am I supposed to save them in the basement like a squirrel so that I can eat locally all winter? Turn them into ethanol? Or sell them on a street corner in downtown New York as a dramatic re-enactment of the Great Depression?
Oops -- I forgot. We don't need to re-enact the Great Depression! We are in the Great Depression! This must be something that McCain and Obama agreed not to discuss last night, leaving the rest of us wondering if they even read the newspapers anymore. It's not just "the economy, stupid" anymore, it's "what economy, stupid?" And yet, you could have listened to the whole debate last night and not known that a major consequence of the global meltdown is that Iceland -- a crucial NATO ally in the mid-Atlantic -- is being gobbled by the Russians, who Sarah Palin has seen from her house -- or was it flying over her house? Well, they may be flying over my house too soon, and maybe I'll run for Vice President next time 'round.
Instead of reading job applications, I used the time between The Lehrer NewsHour and the presidential debate to peel a pile of hardy New England fruits and turn them to apple sauce, so that I could transfer them from the kitchen counter to the freezer in compact little plastic boxes. They were supposed to cook, not overcook, during the debate. The overcooking had two consequences: one is that the whole pot caramelized, which will mean the outcome is either really good or really awful. Whenever the Mother of the Radical (MOTHeR) made such a mistake, she would look at her daughters brightly and say, "Well, we'll just eat it with ice cream!" I thought this was a normal, viable choice to make about failed food -- I now think it was a consequence of having grown up in the 1930's, when calories mattered, Goddamnit!
The other consequence of the overcooking is a nasty, deep-brown burned crust at the bottom of the pot. Will it come off eventually? It's too early to tell. But as they used to say in the first New Deal, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without!"
Why am I attributing this cooking blunder to the debate? My friends (a phrase John McCain repeated over and over and over): last night's debate was one of the most wooden and boring performance I have ever seen two candidates put on. Although I did not fall asleep, I fell into a kind of trance. I saw this mirrored in the faces of the audience, a group of Sixpack Joes and Josephines all gussied up in the clothes they still have left after the mortgage meltdown, people who looked like a bunch of captives who wanted to be anywhere but in the national spotlight. My boredom was only interrupted by moments in which I was briefly appalled: McCain referring to Obama as "that one" (did he forget Obama's name?); Obama "getting tough" and announcing that he would be happy to invade Pakistan (which the United States is already doing, but it made me think that Obama actually should talk to Bill Ayers, since it was a similar all-out bombing of Cambodia that caused Weatherman to split from the peace movement and go into violent opposition to the war.)
And it went on, and on, and on. Obama showed none of the spark, intelligence, zest, and humor that has catapulted him from the Illinois legislature to a national candidacy in five years; John McCain tottered around the stage like a mechanical doll with a key in his back. Watching Obama reminded me of old New Jersey Devils' playoff games, in which they would play defense relentlessly for three periods (analysis: Obama is ahead, and the plan was to not blow it.) Watching McCain made me think, no wonder they thought Sarah Palin was a viable candidate -- the guy is incoherent, can't finish a sentence, and can't answer a question with anything but catch phrases: "earmarks," "cronies," "higher taxes," "experience." At one point he mentioned -- for reasons that were never explained -- that Obama had purchased an overhead projector. I mean, come on. I once purchased an overhead projector, and I consider myself fiscally responsible. Who in America gives a crap about a bunch of unspecified earmarks when we are spending ten billion dollars a month in Iraq? (Analysis: McCain was told to get aggressive and stick to a few talking points that are supposed to mobilize the sans culottes wing of the Republican Party to get out there with their pikes and pitchforks on election day. "No new taxes! Harrr! Overhead projector! Harrr!")
Like the apples, both of these candidates have caramelized. Political consultants have ruined politics if we can be in a global economic meltdown, fewer than thirty days from choosing the new leader of the Free World, and the major parties can't do better than this. But most important, from my point of view, neither candidate wanted to answer a question, and they didn't, so absolutely nothing new came out of the debate. Any undecided voter who has been living on a desert island for the last two years may have gotten some good information; the rest of us, I think, have a right to be offended.
For a more charitable account of the debate in the Paper of Record, go here; for Maureen Dowd on Zoloft (thank goddess!) go here; and for the analysis of my Zenith colleague and fellow blogger, political scientist Elvin Lim, click here.