When used as a noun, the word debate means, "A discussion involving opposing points of view." Using such a definition, the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates are engaging in something other than debate. The Democrats agree that President Bush is a lousy president, the war is lost, higher taxes are good and whoever is talking would make the better president. The Republicans, who rarely mention the president, agree that Hillary Clinton would be a bad president and each could fight terrorists better than any Democrat, except for Ron Paul who doesn't want to fight anyone.
These things resemble the game show "Jeopardy": "I'll have poll-tested answers for $200, Alex." If all the candidates were better looking, younger and female, we could call them beauty contests. Miss Congeniality might say: "My one goal in life is world peace."
These non-debates resemble a cattle auction, except that the cattle want to buy us, or at least our votes. They seem to be saying, "How much can I sell you on the idea that I will be the best of the stock you see parading before you? How much do you believe the bull I'm telling Wolf, Tim, Chris Matthews, Brian, Campbell, John, Wendell, Carl, Chris Wallace and Brit?"
Why can't more voters ask questions? Why must we hear these candidates who want the power to tax our income and send our daughters and sons off to war (or not) filtered through journalists, who have their own agendas?
Maybe it's a poker game: "I raise my opponents' promise with two promises of my own." Then my opponent thinks I'm bluffing, calls my bet and raises me with two more promises.
In none of these game shows/auctions/poker games have I heard a Republican or Democratic presidential candidate talk about my responsibilities in this uniquely privileged land. President John F. Kennedy, who was taken from us 44 years ago this week, famously said, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." In this self-centered generation that precept might be modified to "ask what you can do for yourself and stop asking politicians and government to do it for you."
Where are the orators who will lead us away from our fixation on pleasure and prosperity and back to an ethic well understood by previous generations; an ethic of responsibility and accountability? America, always a dream in search of the ideal, has been transformed from a "can-do on my own" to a "can't do without government" culture of victims; a giant government ATM that dispenses redistributed goodies to all-comers.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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