H.L. Mencken, the Sage of Baltimore, observed famously that "you'll never go broke under-estimating the American taste."
More recently, the Democratic Party has developed its own corollary to that rule. Their thinking goes something like this: You won't lose many elections by under-estimating the electorate, and shamelessly pandering to their every whim.
If you need proof of that, look no further than last night's over-hyped YouTube debate in Charleston, South Carolina. For what seemed like an eternity, the Democratic presidential hopefuls responded to "questions" submitted by YouTube users that appeared on-screen during the debate, which was also broadcast by CNN.
We use the term "questions" with a degree of caution, because many of them were less queries than mini-rants, or softballs so inviting that Hillary, Barrack and the gang couldn't wait to knock them out of the park.
Consider the range of "issues" raised by those hip, edgy YouTubers: Free health care for illegal immigrants. Cutting and running from Iraq. Gay marriage. Sex education. U.S. military intervention in Darfur. Are you a liberal? What are you going to do about Global warming (from an animated snowman, no less). Would you work for the minimum wage? Should we pay reparations for slavery to African-Americans? What kind of tree would you be?
Okay, we borrowed that last one from Barbara Walters, but you get the general drift of last night's debate. No specifics on winning in Iraq (other that Joe Biden rehashing his partition plan). No strategy for the broader War on Terror (unless you count Barrack Obama's proposed dictator-coddling world tour). Keeping our military strong? Forget about it (and remember, the debate was held at the Citadel)! A plan for sustaining the economic growth of the last five years? Phuleeze. Stopping illegal immigration crisis? Don't make me laugh.
In other words, if the YouTube debate is an accurate barometer of the American electorate, we are in very serious trouble, indeed. Most of the so-called "experts" from the MSM are praising the format as "provocative," which suggests that (a) they're as dumb as last night's questioners, or (b) they enjoy watching political batting practice, masquerading as a serious political forum.
Sadly, last night's debate only proves a couple of political axioms. First, large number of voters are either ignorant, uniformed (or both), or they define presidential campaigns in terms of a single issue. And secondly, the sheer banality of those questions suggests that many Americans don't deserve the right to vote. The Talkmaster got it right when he suggested that the franchise should be extended to those who are net payers of income tax. After all, they're footing the bill for all that pandering, which eventually morphs into the next round of earmarks and political pork.
Watching portions of Monday's "debate" from Charleston, we were reminded, oddly enough, of William Faulkner's brief career as a postmaster in Oxford, Mississippi, before he achieved fame as a writer. Faulkner resigned from the post office after only two weeks, saying he "refused to be a slave to any idiot with a 5 cent stamp." Likewise, we don't think the political debate should be captive to anyone with a video camera and an internet connection.
In fairness, there are millions of Americans who can ask incisive, thoughtful questions of presidential candidates. But you wouldn't know that by watching the YouTube debate. Even by the minimalist standards of American political discourse, last night's bit of cheap theater represented a new low in the electoral process.
Here's a better idea for a meaningful, voter-oriented political debate. Hire Frank Luntz to assemble to focus groups, one comprised of Republicans, the other Democrats. Then, let the GOP voters question the Democratic candidates, while the other group gets a crack at the Republican hopefuls. Then, sit back and watch the sparks fly. You won't see any talking snowmen, but you might actually see some tough questions--and some squirming candidates