Whew. Finally. Somebody in the national media said what we’ve been saying so this whole song and dance routine can stop. Finally.
It’s a sad comment on the current state of affairs, I suppose, when CBS provides the most refreshingly sane commentary on the current Presidential election. It’s even sadder when it’s not Dan Rather or Katie Couric breaking the news, but rather David Letterman and his Scottish scion, Craig Ferguson.
Last night David Letterman hosted Barack Obama on his show and peppered the Presidential candidate with questions ranging from the Senator’s domestic economic plan to the prospective scope of US involvement in international aid under an Obama administration. Of course at times it was glib. Of course at times it was a blatant platform for campaign, but the way Letterman handled Obama was far more tactful than George Stephanapolous and his ilk. Letterman asked the soft questions, followed up with a harder counterpoint and, most importantly, let the Senator speak in a manner that was genuine.
Asking about what the United States can do in Africa, Letterman posed the question, Is the continent lost? Obama, naturally, responded with hope and commended the work the Bush administration has done to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa. Letterman allowed Obama’s inevitable applause line to sit and then asked, Won’t a US presence in Africa, albeit humanitarian, aggravate those sovereign countries? There was a faint hint of a pause in Obama’s answer, a hiccup in his throat suppressing the tick to look at Dave, look at the audience and say that this is the most reasonable discussion he’s had on national television since the beginning of the campaign. It was an excellent question, one with the unbiased skepticism of someone who knows some shit, which you wouldn’t necessarily assume from Letterman and his well demonstrated resolve to remain above the fray. Obama answered and the conversation continued to the topic of Haiti, hurricane Ike and the need for the United States to focus on good governance at home before it can promote the same abroad. In the 14 months of the campaign, from the Caucuses to the Conventions, I have never seen Obama so relaxed and speaking in a forum devoid of the 24-Hour-News/Inside the Beltway lens of distortion that emphasizes ad hominem attacks, wordplay, semantics and gotcha politics.
Letterman’s sit down with Obama was so enjoyable, in its leisurely pacing and convivial tone, that my family and I remained sitting in front of the television, watching CBS, reveling in how nice it was to hear a candidate talk for longer than a minute and hear more than what’s contained in a thirty second sound bite. Next thing we know, Craig Ferguson’s already on, host of the Late Late Show, tapping the camera in his signature move, telling America he was angry. For his monologue, he launched into a light-hearted but poignant critique of the media’s coverage of the election cycle. Lipstick, pigs, community organizing is for pussies. He briliantly boiled the situation down to its most fundamental principle, a talent for erudition unique among the Brits and their mates on the Isle, I suppose. “We dont’ want to be your friend,” he said, “We don’t want to have dinner with you. We want you to be President and tell us what you’re going to do for this country.” He insulted the entire artiface of the process, a charade in which we, the media and the candidates themselves are all complicit, and reminded us of the importance of what we’re about to do.
He invoked that sacred word we’ve retired to the 1940s, along with war bonds and Rosie the Riveter. He reminded us that voting’s not a right, it’s not even a privilege. It’s a duty. The civic responsibility of a people who are spared mandatory service in their country’s military or are allowed to write-off taxes as contribution enough. Abstention or ignorance of the issues is not an excuse, he said. If you don’t know anything about the candidates, take twenty minutes out of your day to read some literature and make an informed decision. It is your duty. The one, the one fucking thing you have to do to earn the opportunity to live in a country where you are legally protected from false imprisonment, don’t have to pay a bribe to open a business and can trust there will be water, a hose and a red truck at your door within 10 minutes if your house is on fire. That’s all he’s saying. Vote and have a sense of civic responsibility.
Sure the message is heavy-handed and potentially patronizing, but it’s novel, which is a sad comment on the current coverage if being reminded of the importance to vote in a late night comedy monologue is sobering to see. 24 Hour News and talk radio has ruined the conversation in this country and soured us all on politics far more than Watergate. Nixon didn’t mistrust the American people, he mistrusted the press. Maybe for good reason. Maybe he was right. Just like Dave Letterman, Craig Ferguson and CBS.