Column: Both Presidential Campaigns Exploit Populism

This story was written by Thomas Shattuck, Vanderbilt Hustler

I have to admit that I, along with probably millions of Americans, was disappointed with the last presidential debate. I'm also mildly surprised at the lack of student interest. Of course, I can't really be all that shocked -- the debate slowly became an unnerving display of outright sycophancy. Judging by Messieurs McCain and Obama, all the viewing public wants is xenophobia tinged with less-than-subtle flattery. I know I didn't learn much about either of candidates. I have a funny feeling that was intentional.

Look at it this way: Each campaign has spent millions of dollars and thousands of man hours (some volunteered and some compensated). The way the candidates behaved on Tuesday was not an accident. They have been coached to act just so. For example, neither of these potential leaders answered a single damn question. Not a one. When asked something interesting, they reinterpreted it into a something that directly related to their well-established platform. They then reiterated their platform ad nauseum. While it made for a dull debate, I can't quite fault them. Misdirection is simultaneously fundamental to stage magic and public speaking. They obviously can't have all the answers, so they pretend to look like it. I mean seriously, someone asked if they could put a dollar amount on some of their plans (health care, I think). Who could do that? I know most pundits are equating Obama to Jesus, but even he would be stuck on that one.

So obviously, the candidates knew what they were doing. This brings up the question: Why did they treat the American people like xenophobes? According to them, as an American, all I should care about is that jobs do not get exported. Furthermore, I should think it's a crime to purchase energy from another country. For some reason, I sincerely doubt the source of our domestic woes is foreign economic aggression. It's strange to hear a Republican -- a man who is supposed to be in favor of full trade -- try to stop international competition. I mean, isn't that a fundamental part of globalization? You can stop yourself from changing, but it's a mite more difficult to stop the planet. They must be listening to T. Boone Pickens too much for their own good. There are a lot of problems in this country; however, I don't think developing an isolationist economic policy will help.

Furthermore, the candidates kept announcing how their government would help all the people. That's not entirely surprising from Obama, since he's practically a social Democrat at this point, but from McCain? When would a Republican government ever buy $300 billion in bad debt in an attempt to take an intentional loss? That's not conservative; I'm not entirely sure if it's even sane. Not to mention, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum kept implying the debt crisis was not because of the American people. Like the Enron scandal, the problems were attributed to a few bad apples. You know, because buying a house you can't afford is just peachy. Why have financial common sense when you can just go bankrupt?

One way or another, the campaign machines have quite an interesting picture of the average American voters. They're scared of foreign competition, they have no idea what global warming is (it involves carbon somehow) and they have no sense of personal responsibility whatsoever. It's not exactly a flattering portrait, is it? Of course, maybe it's not so inaccurate. Maybe the campaign apparatuses know more about us than we do ourselves. In that case, we might as well kill ourselves know. If not, I'm sure they'll do it for us.