by ROBERT BUNN
For the past several months, we’ve been engaging in the great national political debate. We’ve been engaging one on one with our friends, with acquaintances, with strangers; on facebook, on message boards, in the office, over coffee, on street corners, even door to door. We’ve been out there, putting our ideas in contact with other people’s ideas, representing the candidates we choose to represent us.
In all that time, the candidates themselves haven’t been speaking to each other. They’ve been talking to their own fans. We’re like two unrelated fandoms, trying to settle the perennial question: “Who would win in a fight, Batman or Iron Man?” There’s no answer to that, but we can see what happens when the Democrat hero and the Republican hero meet face to face. In fact, we saw that last Wednesday.
Shockingly (to Democrats), what we saw was that Mitt Romney had a better understanding of the nature of the contest the people expected to see. The Roman Coliseum would hardly have been filled to watch two men sit across a table, seek common ground, peacefully identify their differences, and submit to the crowd for arbitration. Ideally, that’s what good politics would look like, but it’s lousy political theater.
In the same was that many fans watch hockey for the fights, so do we watch the political debates. Finesse players are for goals, but it’s often the enforcers who draw the crowds. Sidney Crosby gets the real job done, and when he does it, he can bring an arena to its feet. But Eric Godard can do the same, without advancing any useful objective, and far more easily.
Last week, the Republicans got Godard, and the Democrats got Crosby. The Republicans were happy, because they had been expecting Don Cherry. The Democrats were disappointed, because they were expecting Godard, or at least Bob Probert.
All of this leads us back to the real point. What nobody was expecting was two people discussing issues like adults. We’ve been conditioned to view our political process as a gladiatorial contest between opposing teams with mutually exclusive goals. This lens distorts our perceptions, disproportionately magnifying the importance of a single one-on-one confrontation to the point that ninety minutes of altercation is expected to affect the teams’ standings. Our political process will be mature when we expect our candidates to be mature.