The presidential debate season rages on, and the word “fact” holds less and less weight. As we sort through all the information, the "I like Big Bird" and “Oh, now you’re Jack Kennedy” lines have been emblazoned from every rooftop. From where I sit, I almost hesitate to even begin to make an effort to comment on any of this. As it is, we are inundated with pundits. We are almost literally fed opinions of what to think almost as soon as we can form one for ourselves. We find ourselves in an age post-fact, defined by technology and unable to turn off.
The thought first occurred to me coming off of the first presidential debate. I watched the debate in its entirety and I thought both candidates offered solid points and visions for America. It wasn’t the most exciting debate. There were no big fights or take-away moments. It was just a fairly clear, long-winded dialogue from both candidates. I was rather impressed with both men.
What followed was a barrage of post-debate critique that elevated Romney more and more with each passing moment. Romney was smoother, Romney was enjoying himself more. I’m sorry, I didn’t realize a president had to look like he loved his job. Here I am still thinking that Romney and Obama both walked away from solid first-debate performances. I didn’t know I was supposed to have realized that if a candidate fails to aggressively attack with vigor and rely on his points alone, he is losing a debate.
I had not realized how clear of a loss the debate was for Obama. I started to feel like I missed something, like being my own witness of the events wasn’t enough. I was being given instantaneous take-aways from the event. I was being given the best moments, the worst moments and the idea that Romney won despite being less than truthful.
Since the dawn of the 24-hour news network and the internet, there is no longer a single face from which we can get our news, as was the case in the days of Cronkite. With instant technology comes great responsibility.
We are flowing in a sea of pundits who continually spin stories. Facts and news have become preachers to choirs. We are offered “facts” that back up certain points of view. A fact has become something temporary and fleeting, something that can be retracted later when the bump in polls or ratings has already appeared and disappeared. NPR recently had an interesting report on the “death of facts” in our modern world. Essentially, people are willing to blatantly lie as a means to an end, and then stand by those claims until new, fresh news covers the previous incident.
Depending on which social critic you talk to first, it is even unclear whether we are living in the times predicted by George Orwell’s 1984 or by Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Some may argue we are living in the times of Huxley: too much information. What we have is a sea of unimportant tag-lines and claims that reduce us more and more to what Jennifer Madden calls a society of “passivity and egoism.” As she further points out in her essay, “all the libertarians and rationalist ever on the alert to oppose tyranny ‘failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.’” We are amusing ourselves to death.
Or are we in Orwellian times? Are we subscribing to Doublespeak each and every day? Are we given such misleading angles to create a smokescreen from actual, real information being denied to us by Big Brother? A Pew Poll may be hiding more than it shows. (Just ask Jon Stewart about that one.)
Or is everyone simply right? Are Huxley's and Orwell's visions equally accurate? Could both Obama and Romney both have valid points? Are Fox News and MSNBC both factual?
As we roll into the second presidential debate, I have found myself reaching my carrying capacity for spin. From every imaginable angle, there is a poll or talking head giving instantaneous thoughts for us to think, telling us which box to put a particular view in. But elections are about more than catchphrases and attack. The way we get our news is more than headlines and narratives. And not everything will fit neatly into a box.
It is time that news stations — and the candidates themselves — start to treat the American public like an educated mass of people who can think for themselves and who are willing to support the candidate with the best, most specific vision for the country. Pundits and candidates alike shouldn't feel the need to rally with a party. Here's hoping that we can move into an era where individual politicians stand alone, speaking their ideas, parties aside. We are all independent minds. It's time to reach solutions acting on the ideas we ourselves have, instead of relying on those sold as a pre-packaged set.
And, in the end, no one can win a debate.