On their death beds, some people regret all those hours spent with their families when they could have gotten something done at the office. My greatest regret will be that I only got to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty hours watching Republican primary debates.
And if you believe that, you definitely haven’t been watching.
GOP debates are like Mohicans. You always assume that there are going to be plenty more, and then one morning you turn around and there’s only one left. Of the three scheduled debates remaining, two have been canceled, and one isn’t feeling so well.
Can this be the end?
Months ago, I prayed this day would come. “How do you eat an elephant?” an old joke runs. “One bite at a time.” I took them day by day. Each episode had its peculiar virtues. There was the one where everyone talked about contraception. There was Rick Perry’s “Oops.” There was the ten-thousand-dollar bet.
Each debate, like a canape, was exquisite but left me unsatisfied. At first, not knowing what to expect, I had naively hoped that the candidates might actually tell us something new and surprising. But this is what most debate coaches consider a grievous, career-ending error. So beyond the revelation that Jon Huntsman is a human being who exists, they gave us little to go on.
I modified my expectations. If the content might not vary, there could at least be innovations in form. Eating contest? Ultimate fighting championship? Who Wore It Best: Sweater Vest Edition? Sing-off? Amazing Race? Hunger Games? Perhaps the moderator could give them a baby to slice in half, justly.
To be fair, there was some formal innovation. For one exciting debate, the candidates sat at a table. This struck everyone as a little too edgy, so they quickly returned to their patriotically colored podia.
It was fun, in its way, a podium shell game. Where would Santorum turn up next? Would Huntsman disappear entirely? What strange gaffe was hiding in Rick Perry’s mouth? It offered the most exciting opportunity to watch a group of white men in suits sliding slowly to the right since they canceled Conveyor Belt Of Love. Some might call it a particularly cruel form of reality TV where none of the cast receives any compensation.
Whatever it is, it’s a rebellion against television trends. This show would never have gotten green-lit – a program whose longest-running characters are white men over forty, none of whom are Tim Allen? Please.
Still, I can’t help reflecting that if you took the time I’ve spent watching Republican debates, I could watch David Lean’s entire filmography and still have enough time to make a serious dent in Anna Karenina.
Had I invested this much time in another TV show, I would at least feel as though I’d done something cultural. But what do we as a nation have to show after all of this? The only function the debates really served was to show that Newt Gingrich was a past-master at sounding as though he knows what he’s talking about, that Rick Perry was not, and that Mitt Romney has been working very hard since 2008 to traverse the Uncanny Valley.
Could this be it? After this, will it just be Newt Gingrich wandering in the wilderness asking strangers to engage him in three-hour Lincoln-Douglas-style debates?
Perhaps this is not the end, or even the beginning of the end. But if it’s not the end of the beginning, I think I might rupture something.