Debate as farce


The ravings of Mr. Obama's former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Mr. Obama's decision not to where a flag lapel pin. Ms. Clinton's misrepresentation of a visit to Bosnia more than a decade ago. What do they have in common? They don't amount to a hill of beans.

The candidates bear some blame for the low level of discourse, but it is fueled by the national media's fascination with the trivial and disinterest in the substantial. This was clearly on display in last week's Democratic debate on ABC, hosted by Charles Gibson and former Bill Clinton flack George Stephanopoulos. With Mr. Obama in the crosshairs, the Reverend Wright piñata was brought out for another whacking and Mr. Stephanopoulos played "gotcha" by dragging a long ago meeting between the senator and Vietnam-era radical William Ayers out of the maelstrom of rumor and paranoia that is the blogosphere.

The Wright contretemps and the so-far lesser Ayers issue have in common the theory that a candidate is responsible for the views of anyone they have ever been associated with, no matter how casual the association. If this is the case, than any candidate with any kind of life experience will become ineligible for office, and only candidates who have lived their lives encased in bubbles, like the current occupant of the White House, will be suitable for office. Look at how well that has worked out.

That Senator Obama doesn't wear a flag pin on his lapel also came in for useless discussion Thursday. The senator chooses not to, which in some circles, raises questions about his patriotism. Congress is packed with flag pin-wearing blowhards who sent soldiers off to a cynical war and have not funded care for them when they have returned physically and mentally broken. Their flag pins don't make them patriots. The absence of a flag pin doesn't make Mr. Obama unpatriotic.

Senator Clinton's false account of dodging gunfire when she landed in Bosnia during her husband's administration was too detailed to be a misstatement; she was obviously hoping to get away with a tall tale. She has been apologizing for weeks, however, and it is time for the gaffe-fixated national media to let it go. Republican nominee John McCain's ongoing confusion about Shiites and Sunnis is far more significant, but the media can't be bothered.

These entertaining but trivial pursuits would perhaps be defensible if the nation had no real issues before it, but it has plenty. A broken health care system. A terrible economy. A troubled educational system. Global warming. The food crisis. Skyrocketing gas prices. The candidates should be fixated on them, and that they are not is in large part the fault of a media that is turning a presidential race that is as serious as the problems we face into a circus.



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