Friday, September 19, 2014

Sounds nice but there’s no substance

Posted on Oct. 7, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

Richard Leib

Slogans and narratives. Claims and blames. The debates have begun.

Consider the phrase “Jobs created and saved.” Have you ever thought about the dopiness of that? There are so many ways to manipulate the numbers that any kind of realness is lost almost at the outset.

But “Jobs created and saved” is one of those phrases like “Hope and Change” that somehow moves the masses, even though there is virtually no substance to it.

The new slogan for the Obama campaign is “Forward.” I guess that means, “More of the same, but Hope for better results.”

Perhaps phrases like this should carry disclaimers to the effect that, “No reality was used during the making of this slogan.”

Maybe slogan-meisters who create this stuff are on to something, though. The 19th century writer Oscar Wilde advised his friend to “Remain as I do, incomprehensible. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

Wednesday’s presidential debate seemingly did its best to follow Wilde’s dictum. TV anchor Jim Lehrer of government-supported PBS moderated the first presidential debate. It focused on domestic policy. Lehrer determined the topics and the questions but still managed to behave impartially.

As we approach one of the most critical times in the world’s history, Lehrer presented a debate that offered us two slogan-filled visions for solving the looming fiscal crisis. According to AP’s Andrew Taylor, neither plan would work.

Romney’s plan, according to Taylor, wouldn’t work because he could never get it through Congress. And Obama’s wouldn’t work even if he could get it through Congress. Forward into the unknown we go.

The debate talked a lot about the future. It might it be a good idea to remind ourselves that the past is history, and the present is knowable. But the future, as prognosticated by a person running for office, is little more than a narrative that is meant to win the hearts and/or the minds of voters.

Politics at this level is showbiz-centric. And when it comes to spinning a narrative, those visits to the Letterman show, “The View” and gigs with Beyonce and George Clooney may have served Obama well.

Romney’s hope is that his business acumen will trump Obama’s slap-dash presentation. Time will tell.

Did that debate change anyone’s mind? Possibly, but it could have been more enjoyable. It’s times like this I miss Newt Gingrich.

Debates could be audience-grabbers, but they’d have to have an honest-to-goodness neutral moderator and great debaters. Or, if not great debaters at least some who were entertaining would be needed.

Howard Stern vs. Jon Stewart moderated by Tom Bergeron — now that would be a lollapalooza. And goofy as it sounds, it would probably influence more votes than the current debates will.

This was a debate on domestic policy. Excessive spending has added trillions to our debt and resulted in two unprecedented cuts in the U.S. credit rating. Polls indicate 68 percent of Americans are unhappy with the country’s direction. But getting specific answers to hardball questions in a debate is always a challenge.

For Romney it was a passing offense with hope that he can find some good receivers in the end zone.

For Obama, it was defense. Avoid the incumbent record, run out the clock, and look cool in the uniform.

Game on.

Former Elkhart furniture store owner Richard Leib has served on planning committees in several industries. An avid auto fan, he raced in the 1972 coast-to-coast Cannonball Run. He has written on a wide range of subjects.