Be honest. What have you learned from the first two presidential debates? Do you expect to be any more enlightened by Wednesday night's third and final showdown between Barack Obama and John McCain?
If you're like my friends and associates outside the newsroom, you're setting the bar pretty low. If these "debates" have proven anything, they confirm our two-party choice is dumb and dumber (you pick).
Three months before the current market meltdown, the Wall Street Journal carried this headline: "The State of the Union? Furious." When the ever-bullish Bible of U.S. capitalism acknowledges that the natives are restless, you know things are serious.
But the Journal, like the rest of the mainstream media, persists in the notion that America's political duopoly fronted and funded by the same racketeers who got us into this mess can deliver solutions.
While the press works itself into its quadrennial lather, thinking Americans wearily ask, "Is this the best there is?"
Sure, voter registration is up, but some of the biggest gains have been among independents. And with a dozen states investigating charges of fraudulent sign-up scams by ACORN, the Democratic numbers look increasingly suspicious.
Yes, "Maverick" McCain wrapped up the Republican nomination, but it was Ron Paul who raised more than $30 million from grass-roots sources via the Internet.
Yeah, "Messiah" Obama preaches "change," but can anyone say what that means? His entourage of Carter- and Clinton-era holdovers doesn't exactly exude freshness.
Fact is, there's hardly a dime's worth of difference between Obama and McCain when it comes to dealing with the metastasizing credit crisis. Both supported the widely unpopular and apparently ineffective $700 billion bailout. Neither has a clue about what to do next. Some choice.
In another dispatch, the Journal declared, without substantiation, that "the electorate has shown little appetite for third-party candidates."
For this, the political scribes can pat themselves on the back. By serving as handmaidens for Democratic and Republican spin doctors, they suck the oxygen right out of democracy. The media's treatment of Paul, a former Libertarian standard bearer, epitomized the bigotry. Though he was the lone Republican presidential candidate to speak authoritatively on the crumbling domestic economy and America's economic imperialism overseas, the Texas congressman received only token coverage.
Likewise, Ralph Nader widely credited/castigated for single-handedly defeating Al Gore in 2000 gets the bum's rush. Agree with him or not, Nader isn't afraid to challenge the oil industry in ways that corporate politicians never have and never will.
For decades, he's assailed nuclear energy, Wall Street speculators and the Israeli lobby all issues that the Republicrats still won't touch. Or how about someone anyone who would represent the public by taking a seriously hard line on illegal immigration?
It would be refreshing to see such views on display Wednesday night. Alas, corporatism's grip on politics is so tight that Anheuser-Busch (now Belgian-based InBev) helps bankroll the "debates," which Nader refers to as a series of "parallel interviews."
Keeping their cozy duopoly game going, former heads of the Republican and Democratic parties who run the debate commission dictate arbitrary thresholds for inclusion (typically 10 to 15 percent in a set of prescribed opinion polls). This is an impossible Catch-22 in a prevailing news blackout, unless you're a multibillionaire like Ross Perot, who bought his way onto the stage.
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The irony is that Nader (running on the Ecology Party ballot line in Florida) wages a national campaign while the Republicans and Democrats pick their spots, based on polling and probability of success. Five weeks before Election Day, McCain pulled out of Michigan, the eighth biggest state.
"We have a one-party system designed by the parties," Nader said this spring in the shadow of Philadelphia's historic Independence Hall. Would the Founding Fathers be impressed with what's onstage at Hofstra University Wednesday night? I'm betting they'd vote independent.
After all, there's no point in rewarding bad behavior.
Kenric Ward writes for Scripps Treasure Coast (Fla.) Newspapers, The Stuart News, Fort Pierce Tribune and Vero Beach Press Journal. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.