Do you ever watch something on television and just feel embarrassed by what you see, not just for the people on it, but also yourself and everyone else watching it?
Whenever I feel a little ashamed by my viewing habits, usually the culprit is a rerun of "Jersey Shore" or any show that takes Glenn Beck seriously. But on Tuesday, instead of MTV making me cringe, I couldn't help but watch the presidential debate and be embarrassed for the candidates and for the sake of this country.
Debates usually seem to be of little consequence; the only real damage they make is that they interrupt most people's viewing habits for weekday network line-ups. I don't really know anyone who watches a debate and thinks that that was the defining moment in which they chose who they thought should be the next president of the United States of America. Most debates are simply bland. Candidates never really branch out from their rhetoric to really say anything of substance, and voters usually respond in kind by not opening themselves up to be swayed by what they say.
While an ineffectual debate would have been bad, whatever Tuesday night's so-called debate ended up being was worse.
Following the first debate, there was a buzz glowing about Tuesday's meeting. Obama was reeling, Romney was rising, and I let myself think that Tuesday would actually be a night where there would be real debating. I thought, for one moment, that something substantive would come out of their meeting.
I was wrong.
Instead of actually talking about important issues, Obama and Romney spend 90 minutes going back and forth, interrupting each other in turn, comparing personal wealth and consistently calling the other out on some form of malarkey (couldn't resist a Biden reference). I was surprised that the moderator didn't whip out a ruler right then and there to settle the main phallic question at hand.
On the heels of an already embarrassing VP debate where the nostrumitic Ryan wouldn't reveal his snake oil numbers and Biden did his best Clint Eastwood "Gran Torino" impression, this debate sealed the 2012 presidential election as officially being a circus. Issues don't matter. Views don't count for anything. The only quality that holds weight is appearances, and both candidates are trying so hard to appear like they're in control that they're not even bothering to act like a politician.
Tuesday night's debate was embarrassing. Romney and Obama spent the first fifteen minutes circling one another as if they were in a boxing ring, and after that all rules of debate were left to the wayside in the attempts to one-up the other in an escalating competition of machismo. Near the end of it, I was half expecting the pair to pull a Vladimir Putin, take their shirts off and hunt a whale with a crossbow (something that Putin apparently does).
Whenever either candidate was actually given the chance to turn the tide of the night into something worthwhile, they dropped the ball. Romney equivocated on the gender equality question (also, I'm a little creeped out by his "binder of women" comment), and Obama's stare-down response about the Syrian situation had all the markings of being so obviously rehearsed that all possible honesty and power behind those words was lost in a mist of rhetoric.
I guess I'm naïve. I turned on the TV Tuesday night hoping to see the American political system at work. Instead, I saw two men who were both trying to get the most powerful position in the world and going about it without any self-control.
Tuesday night, both men lost a golden opportunity to rise above the banality of the campaign process and take an opportunity to truly talk about the issues. Instead, the pair got stuck in a fight over manliness, thus insulting the intelligence of everyone watching them. We treat these men with reverence and respect. We listen to their words; we watch their ads. And in return, they argue over the other's pension.
— Preston Peeden is a senior in history. He can be reached at email@example.com.