Obama-McCain fourth debate…

The details of the fourth and last debate are shrouded in mystery, but I can reveal that the candidates’ campaigns have been discussing a short-list of dramatic debate formats. Let’s face it: the first three debates were lame. Worse than that, they failed to test the two candidates beyond the prepared scripts. Presidents need to be quick witted, able to handle pressure, knowledgeable, and resourceful. Hence, many novel and fanciful formats have been muted.

Here they are:

The Pub Crawl format
McCain and Obama go on a gigantic bender across Manhattan, starting at Sam and Joe’s Smokin’ Hot Pub on Fourth Street and ending somewhere in Harlem. The rules are simple: the candidates must choose in each pub from a whiskey (American of course), a Budweiser or Miller (not Light!), or a large Cosmopolitan cocktail (the Obama campaign insisted on this). Wine was dismissed as an option early on, because it was considered foppish and elitist and too likely to involve something foreign or French.

The candidates have to debate the issues amid the din and noise of a busy Manhattan bar, chatting to the locals and jostling for seats among the regulars. As the alcohol takes its toll, we’d really get to see them open up and tell it like it is. Finally, to end the night, the candidates would be filmed arriving home at 3am in the morning, roaring drunk and greeted by their wives.

The Survivor format
More like The Edge than a debate (McCain takes the role of Anthony Hopkins, while Obama is Alec Baldwin), this format involves the candidates crash-landing in a remote forest location in New Hampshire and being filmed as they struggle to reach home, while avoiding the young-man vs. old-man humiliations of relying on each other while inevitably clashing over women and status. This takes place over the last weekend in October, but there was some risk than one, or both, candidates would die. Considering this a pleasant potential outcome, the Palin supporters have been strongly urging McCain to take up the challenge. McCain, never one to shirk a return to survival mode, is said to favour this option too. Obama’s team have asked for strategically placed latte machines along the proposed route as a precondition of participating.

The Chess game format
Here, like Max von Sydow in The Seventh Seal, the candidates play a game of symbolic chess against each other. Every move must be accompanied by a mini-play or pageant of the candidate’s choosing on the themes of Evil vs. Good, Greed vs. Selflessness, The Common Man vs. God, Hope and Despair, and The Ages of Man. A select audience of theatre critics, chess masters, and journalists scores the opponents on various factors, such as style, content, drama, acting, and chess ability. While the Obama team feels that he can win the chess game, they’re worried that the black and white pieces would be too racist in symbolism. McCain’s team have been tutoring him in controlling his anger long enough to actually finish a game without thrashing the pieces and board. He also has to understand that he can only make one move at a time…

The Foreign Leaders format
Let’s face it, the last three hosts have been feeble. To juice things up, the organisers will invite five mortal enemies to host the debate… Emboldened by the collapse of the American capitalist system, the premiers of Russia, Venezuela, North Korea, Iran, and Spain (!!) square off against the two candidates. The five premiers would bombard the two with questions, water from water pistols, and rotten fruit and vegetables. The candidates would have to show considerable poise, strength and wit to overcome the constant bickering and attacks from all five veteran foreign leaders.

The Rapping Format
Obama’s team suggested this one: rapping out answers to difficult questions in rhyme and to music. Obama even composed some sample lyrics in anticipation of the debate:

You gotta tax the rich
‘Cos we’re in a stitch.
The banks ain’t legit
Put my budget in deficit.
Finance the war
That’s the score.
Change change change
It’s what we got to arrange…

McCain is a naturally angry rapper, so his team, despite the “coolness deficit”, are considering this option quite seriously.

I might be old
But he’s just cold.
No more tax
But can’t relax.
There’s a war to win
To leave is a sin.
I’m the Maverick
Solid as a brick.

And finally…the Risk format
Risk is the classic game of world domination and strategy. Here, the opponents face off over a large map of the world and try to out wit each other in dominating areas of the map. McCain, playing with the red team, starts with most of Central Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Africa, with Venezula thrown in. Obama starts with most of North America and Europe. The difference in this game is that the US armed forces actually participate, in real time, across the world, invading countries and bombing countries. Armageddon!

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America Votes – The world cannot bear to watch

America is facing into a difficult time. They are mired down in two intractable wars in the Middle East, face the complete collapse of their banking system, and haven’t even begun yet to address global warming, the food crisis, peak oil, or adjust to the rise of China and India. But something lies at the heart of this mess. It is one word: stupidity.

A long-term culture of anti-intellectualism has pervaded American politics since at least 1980 and the rise of that gun-toting, straight-talking actor. It is as if intelligence and aloofness and being elite were necessarily bad qualities in a leader. Most other countries actively want and vote for intelligent, elite, educated leaders, who look like they know more than the average Joe. These qualities are seen as an essential characteristic of being a leader. And religion has laid its deathly, dumb, unreasoning hand across public debate too, reaching its nadir with the appointment of Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate, to “energise the base”. Anyone who can embrace a politician tasked with solving America’s problems based on the fact that she is a “hockey mom” or believes in Adam and Eve, deserves to have their vote stripped from them.

There is the constant assumption, among popular America thinking, that the American electoral system is almost flawless, and is indeed the epitome of perfection. The assumption is that the original drafters of the American constitution were historically prescient to a degree that no other legislators in history, in any other comparable country, could hope to achieve. And that not only did they draft far-sighted rules and regulations that worked well in 1779, but that they continue to work well in 2008.

But the system is flawed. That a Presidential candidate can nominate a total unknown who then might slot into the second-highest position in the land is frightening enough. But that they stand one heart-beat from the Presidency is even more scary. All we can be sure of is that she won’t blink.

Democracy itself is not perfect. Churchill famously said of it, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” It is chastening to reflect that public reaction, most of it ill-informed, can decide whether a complex piece of financial rescue legislation can be defeated in the House or not.

When it comes to the Presidential election, how does the vote of some illiterate from a rural town in middle America with no exposure to economics or foreign policy equate to the vote of an educated, elite politically-savvy person from New York, say? It doesn’t. But the democratic principle says it is. And, yes, I accept that I’d rather live with democracy’s imperfections than a perfect totalitarianism. I am with Churchill on that point. But it still doesn’t make democracy right or not in need of remedial attention.

No doubt my notions will be considered elitist: it is because they are elitist. But maybe it is time for America to breathe in deeply, adopt some humility, and elect some elite, smart guy to run their country for a few years. Well, America?

McCain v. Obama – the first debate

It goes something like this:

Early November, 2008. NBC studios, in New York. The polls show McCain and Obama both at 50%, with nothing to separate the two. Tension is riding high ever since Cindy McCain won a bake-off with Michele Obama. Her apple pie beat Michele’s carrot cake handily.

McCain: “I am old enough to be your father. I could teach you a thing or two.”

Obama: “You are old enough to be my father’s father. You don’t understand the modern world. ”

McCain: “At least I fought. You didn’t serve in our military. You’re not able to be a credible commander-in-chief.”

Obama: “My perspective is uncluttered with a sentimental attachment to war. You’re still fighting it.”

McCain: “Don’t dare belittle my experiences. When the tough decisions need to be made, I’ll face them in the eye. I’ve survived worse than you could ever imagine.”

Obama: “The way forward is not war. It is peace and the building of a new future. How is your personal ordeal, brave as it was, favourable for America in the 21st century?”

McCain: “Personal bravery is the making of a man. You’ve not had anything comparable to draw on.”

Obama: “I fought off Hilary Clinton in a bitter and sometimes nasty campaign. I’ve fought racism everyday of my life. My war is the war fought by every working class American, for justice, a fair wage, and universal health care.”

McCain: “We both stand here as the survivors of nasty campaigns. And don’t forget: I was the target of an ugly smear campaign in 2000 with racist overtones, so you’re hardly unique. And as for being a working class American: you’re an Ivy League patrician.”

Obama: “That campaign against you was a Republican smear campaign. Thank you for reminding us. Let’s agree to ignore the bickering and concentrate on the policies.”

McCain: “Ok. Let’s start with the Iraq war. I intend finishing the job, no matter how botched it has been until now. ”

Obama: “We need to withdraw. It was the wrong war to fight at the wrong time. Enough damage has been done: let’s not dig a bigger hole.”

McCain: “Too much blood and money has been spent for us to abandon it now. Sending out a signal of weakness will condemn us to fighting more and bigger wars in the future.”

Obama: “Wars we can fight with our full energy, if we need to. Right now, we are stretched too thin in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our enemies are not just the terrorists: they are poverty, exclusion, racism, religious fundamentalism. Let’s focus on knocking down those threats.”

McCain: “I never met a terrorist yet that I could talk to or that would listen. As for their poverty and exclusion: if they accepted our friendship now, they’d be half-way there to prosperity.”

Obama: “Paying for Bush’s war means we cannot pay for our health care system. Our marginalised citizens fall further behind every year, in education, opportunity, and security.”

etc….

At some point, McCain will mention “ordinary working class people”, implying white working class people. Obama will counter with at least 4 or 5 mentions of Bush or of “this failed administration” (an oxymoron?). In the end, the vote will take place. McCain will win 50%, Obama 50%. The Supreme court will be brought in to decide….aaargh!