To listen to the political pundits, you would think that last night’s YouTube debate ushered in a new golden age of politics. Like everything else that get’s lumped in with technology and in particular, social networking sites like YouTube, it’s given a free pass and little or no scrutiny. Technology=good, or better, great, every time.
While some articles pointed out the paucity of substantive questions, most were willing to lionize the gimmickry and mostly irrelevant questions, as some kind of watershed event in the way that political dialogue will now be carried out. Whether we have questioners dressed as snowmen, or yielding assault rifles, or the scripted questions being spoonfed by the likes of Jim Lehrer, the current debate format absolutely sucks!
I didn’t watch the debate, but I could have predicted the near orgasmic gushing that would follow the proceedings. Which brings us back to the questions, which I viewed online and from transcripts of the debate. The form which we ask our questions will determine the answers that we get. As Francis Bacon put it, some 350 years ago, “There arises from bad and unapt formation of words a wonderful obstruction of the mind.” Bacon’s quote is a fitting definition for stupidity, which our culture is drowning in at the present time.
As Postman commented upon, in Conscientious Objections, it may be that "we have adapted ourselves to disinformation, to Newspeak, to public relations hype, to imagery disguised as thought, to picture newspapers (USA Today comes to mind) and magazines, to religion revealed in the form of entertainment, to politics in the form of a thirty-second television commercial."
This last one is what our political debates are about—30-second television commercials.
Take for instance Hillary Clinton, when asked if she considered herself a “liberal,” demurred by answering Rob Porter’s YouTube clip by saying that she preferred the word “progressive.”
This won’t be a problem for Clinton because no one but a few sticklers for historicity, even know what the hell progressive once stood for. For all the brain-addled masses know, her self-identifying as a “progressive’ might mean that she’s been bought and paid for by Progressive Insurance, since we’re not far away from having corporate spots accenting our political events, like our sports; as if that would be a problem—our candidates are already bought and sold.
Not that it matters, but when I hear Clinton call herself a progressive, I alternate between laughter and screams. Some of us still know what the term once meant—particularly as it was used during the 19th century, when it came to mean a definite alternative to the conservative solutions being offered in dealing with the social and economic issues of the day.
Historically, progressive candidates, particularly in the early years of the 20th century, were concerned with social justice and workers rights, not being some watered down version of conservatism that much of Clinton’s platform represents.
For those who have read about progressives like Robert “Fighting Bob” LaFollette, a man who in his day was called “arguably the most important and recognized leader of the opposition to the growing dominance of corporations over the Government.” Not something that Ms. Clinton would know much about.
You see, true progressives, like LaFollette, actually had some backbone and principals, something that Clinton knows little about. LaFollette, was a friend of Emma Goldman, who called LaFollette "the finest, most inconsistent anarchist" of his time. Can you imagine any modern candidate, who associated with the likes of known radicals, like Goldman, having a chance in the era of "handled" candidates--people who have every wardrobe, as well as word, picked out for them, to wear and say?
LaFollette was a man so fierce in his convictions that he would risk consignment to political oblivion rather than abandon an unpopular position. He represented the antithesis of the elected officials whose compromises characterize our contemporary condition, officials like Hillary Clinton.
La Follette believed strongly that the inheritors of America's revolutionary tradition would, if given the truth, opt not for moderation but for the most radical of solutions. This doesn’t sound much like Clinton, or Obama, for that matter.
No, Mrs. Clinton, you may not be a liberal, but you most certainly aren’t a progressive, at least in a historical sense.