The American election season is finally in full swing. Yes, despite what a year of Republican preliminary debates would have you think, the election season proper has just kicked off. Last Wednesday’s first debate saw an assertive, confident and half-smiling (not smirking!) Romney take on an absentminded, uncomfortable-looking president Obama on his wedding anniversary.
At least this is what I concluded from later reports, and the five minutes I could bear to watch of this battle of rhetoric, misdirected gazes and body language; in other words everything that makes politics so unattractive to the bystander.
For those that felt the same however, the weekend held a gem – perhaps slightly less prominent among non-American audiences – but one that was broadcast to the denizens of these internets: O’Reilly vs. Stewart 2012, The Rumble in the Air-conditioned Auditorium. The party lines, although not official, were crystal clear.
Fox News political commentator Bill O’Reilly of the O’Reilly Factor represented the right, and Jon Stewart, of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, embodied the left, titles both would surely reject in favour of that of ‘common sense’. Both are media personalities with a great political following; together they command more than five million steady viewers for their shows, O’Reilly’s being the 10th most watched on cable.
The debate brought a breath of fresh air not just in the form of air conditioning. For once instead of nominees that appear either as demagogues or simply uninspired when trying to sound sincere and exciting, or else sentimental and out of touch when aiming for funny, we were presented with a no holds barred, truly funny, yet thought-provoking, exchange on our screens.
Perhaps what best demonstrated that this was no foolish debate was the stark contrast represented by the moderator’s mostly banal, pre-prepared questions, and the flow of the humorous, but meaningful conversation on the podium.
O’Reilly in many ways filled the role of that old teacher you used to have that was somewhat endearing in his attempts to generate laughter, yet completely out of touch and in many ways frightening in his ideals. Stewart on the other hand reminded one of the class jester, whom, if you listened carefully, would turn out to also be the smartest kid in the room.
It is safe to say that Jon Stewart did what the president’s most devout followers would have expected of Obama on Wednesday and dominated his opponent with ease and the wit he is well known for. While it was evident from the start that this would be his debate, instead of growing arrogant he managed to grasp the opportunity to try to communicate his views to an audience, judging from the applause O’Reilly received, far more diverse than his daily ‘faux-news programme’ would attract.
He talked about the right’s intentional, seemingly skewed logic on many issues, pointing out their readiness to take advantage of ‘Uncle Sam’ when needed and to dismiss it when it seems to be of no immediate and direct benefit, or how sweeping deregulation is nothing but a mindless experiment that has led to catastrophic results in the past.
He emphasised their oversimplification, which makes it difficult to discuss real solutions, and a bias when it comes to evaluating government, as well as Fox News’ obsession with an ever-looming catastrophe. He even provided his own catchphrase, that of “Bullshit Mountain”, to categorise this thinking.
For all the jokes the two speakers made at each other’s expense, and despite the profanity, the debate had an air of respect and honesty about it that Romney and Obama would be hard-pressed to duplicate and I was left with a feeling that perhaps this could be the answer to our generation’s fabled disinterest in politics.