Monday, March 4, 2013

Presidential debates were a good start, but, boy, did we bungle the life out of them!

PHOTO | FILE I am surprised that no pub advertised large-screen showing of the debates.

PHOTO | FILE I am surprised that no pub advertised large-screen showing of the debates.  NATION MEDIA GROUP

By WAGA ODONGO

Congratulations! Kenya has caught up with America of the 1960s. Or Afghanistan in 2009. We had a brace of presidential debates that featured all the candidates.

I was curious why several technology companies chose to launch their hideously expensive, tastelessly large televisions (a television set priced in the million-shilling range is the single most tasteless thing after Mike Sonko’s peroxide hairstyle), but now I think I know why. Surely these two facts — the presidential debate and the humongous television sets — are connected. I am too cynical to believe in coincidences.

Usually, television companies go on an advertising campaign during football tournaments to get fans to watch the matches in glorious HD. I am surprised that no pub advertised large-screen showing of the debates.

I still think, though, that the decision to host all candidates was a bad idea. It stops the grand inquisitors from concentrating on the front runners. Not all are on equal footing, but for the sake of our flirtation with impartiality, the thoroughbreds and the thorough in-breds were presented side by side.

The low point, though, was the vice-presidential debates, where candidates were invited to demonise homosexuals and ingratiate themselves with Christian zealots by endorsing a reactionary view of morality. No country that pretends to be secular should kowtow to any religious group by having its presidential candidates holding debates in a church setting.

As it was an American import, no clapping or cheering was allowed during the debates. But I felt the novelty of the event prevented deeper questions on policy. A few zingers and soundbites filtered through what was an otherwise dull outing. What surprises me is why the top two candidates would want to go through with it. A debate obviously undermines the two-horse narrative that they tried so hard to cultivate. A debate would present candidates’ voters with alternatives aside from them, which is a bad thing if you are in the lead. The Democrats and Republicans never bother letting other presidential candidates on to the stage when running for president.

But debates now will become regulars. Once we start, we cannot go back on them.

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