The debates are like watching two jocks compete for a drunken floozy. Both guys seem like assholes, and you get the feeling that the girl deserves whichever chump she chooses. The rest of us are left lonely in the bleachers with stale popcorn and a headache.
Thursday night’s vice presidential debate was a little bit harder to watch than I anticipated. I tried to find a conservative-leaning venue, so I could see the debate among a crowd with a different perspective than last time. But that turned into a wild goose chase that led my photographer Clark and I all over New Orleans. It was much harder to find a bar with a confederate flag than you might expect in a city filled with Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee statues. Although a number of people pointed out that any white area in Metairie (an affluent suburb) would most likely be conservative, one sagacious old women reminded us that most of those people watching the debates would do so insulated in their own homes. This fact left us miles away from the R Bar (where we watched the first presidential debate), but still in the same old liberal stomping grounds.
Abandoning Plan A, we tried to get in contact with the local college Republicans from universities like Tulane and Loyola, but they weren’t holding any public gatherings to watch their boy Paul Ryan defend his platform. I entertained going to an old folks home before realizing the 8 PM starting time was way beyond their bedtime. In desperation, we stopped at random bars to see the debate and found out that we were up against a far more popular bill—the Steelers were playing the Titans, and that was important. We were, as they say, fucked.
New Orleans is a football town. Their love for the game is so intense that this year they’re planning on interrupting their traditional Carnival for a week to properly host the Super Bowl. The only thing that could pause a parade in this city is football. As Clark explained, “They might not bother getting the power turned back on in your Parish for a few days, but a parade will happen on time no matter what.”
Of course, the football game was a more popular event to watch nationwide. Fantasy football is oddly more real than national politics in our country, and it makes sense why. The level of apathy has risen to such an extent that an alarming number of people would rather root for or against Ben Roethlisberger than they would Ryan or Biden. It appears that the Republicans and Democrats are cut from the same cloth, and no matter what we wish we had, our choices are Coke or Pepsi, and that’s all we got. If I gave a shit about sports, I would’ve probably preferred to be distracted by gigantic gladiators crushing the shit out of each other too.
Clark and I rode our bikes around town and discussed our options. I called a couple of strip clubs but none of them seemed very interested in hosting two broke asses with political fetishes. Both gay clubs we stopped by were adamant that bars and politics didn’t mix, and the concept of live streaming it via YouTube at a coffee shop sounded incredibly pathetic. Luckily, at the last moment, Mimi’s in the Marigny said they’d turn it on for us, though they couldn’t promise the crowd would be overly receptive if the volume was turned up. We couldn’t complain—a beer and closed captions were a godsend at that point. Besides, the media makes such a big deal out of the body language and facial expressions at these things, that listening to what the candidates actually had to say seemed like a distraction.
The debate started with all the enthusiasm of a high school assembly. It was the same old CNN debate broadcast, split screens and the live undecided voter brain feed. Who were the undecided voters anyway? Does anybody know anybody who is undecided at this point? Who is sitting there saying, “That Obama character seems like he knows what he’s talking about, but I like the cut of Romney’s jib? I just can’t make up my mind, Godammit!” Whoever these undecided voters are can be credited with giving the nation blue balls. What are they waiting for? Even more confusing, where did CNN find these people? Bizarre.
We sat there watching the candidates mouth words while trying to match their expressions with broken phrases typed by a stenographer desperately trying to keep up. The first thing that caught my attention was Biden’s use of the old-timey swear word substitute malarkey. I knew that one would get some press. Joe Biden is like a very drunk, eccentric uncle; and it’s hard to disassociate the man from his Onion image. I wondered how many drinks he had before stepping up to the table. Clark speculated it was three and a shot. Ryan sat there smiling, showing off his well-publicized dimple as Biden tried to convince us that Obama had done everything he’d promised to do. They wore the same color ties as their presidential counterparts, though for whatever reason, both of their ties were striped. Somebody should look into that.
The moderator, Martha Raddatz, asked Ryan if the US should apologize for doing all those crazy things we do in other countries. Ryan said something along the lines of, “Oh gosh, yes,” and then went on to talk about burning Korans and urinating on corpses, which somehow led to why we needed more forces overseas. Why not? Uncle Joe looked at him seriously for a while before breaking into uncontrolled laughter. I couldn’t quite make out everything that Ryan was saying through the text, but clearly something incredibly funny had been said.
As for Iran, how should the US stop them from getting a nuclear weapon? Ryan made it clear that it was a top priority to keep them from getting nukes by discussing how the Iranians tried to assassinate a Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington, DC, which was something I hadn’t heard about. I was about to ask the table next to me about it but decided not to interrupt their conversation about Drew Brees. Ryan pointed out that Obama had publicly said he was too busy to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and then sat down with the ladies from The View, and that distancing us from Israel even one iota only encouraged our enemies. Biden retorted with an explanation of how long he’d been friends with Netanyahu (39 years) and how military interventions should be treated as an option of last resort. The latter made sense to me.
Around this time, the bartender decided to turn the volume on the TV up. It was hard to make out what the candidates were saying even though it was blaring at full blast, so he made the executive decision to pump the debate through the house sound system. They weren’t lined up correctly, resulting in a weird echo effect reverberating off the walls, making it hard to hear. The closed caption was delayed even more, so there were two mismatched audible streams paired with two discombobulating visuals. People started screaming, “Save us! Save us with some music!” Nobody wanted to listen to what either candidate had to say, and I couldn’t blame them. Ryan and Biden were arguing about numbers that nobody in the bar could relate to. Joe’s nonstop laughing and Paul’s smug smirk turned everybody off. What the fuck was so funny? Weren’t they supposed to be describing their platforms in a serious tone? Shouldn’t they be holding themselves up to the gravity of the situation?
Obviously not. These debates aren’t judged on actual substance, but rather whatever the media chooses to hype as X-factors, and who knows what random word or blink of the eye Wolf Blitzer was going to focus on tomorrow. It’s like watching two jocks compete for a drunken floozy. Both guys seem like assholes, and you get the feeling that the girl deserves whichever chump she chooses. The rest of us are left lonely in the bleachers with stale popcorn and a throbbing migraine.
Biden talked about leveling the playing field (another timely sports reference) and how Romney had been against bailing out the auto industry. How could Mitt say he was for the people while being ambivalent towards hundreds of thousands losing their jobs? Ryan countered by pointing out how shitty the economy was, which was a hard thing to argue against. People were out of work regardless of how Chevrolet was doing, and the level of poverty in the country was disturbingly high. But then he went back into the whole “we need real reforms” rhetoric and gave justifications for giving tax cuts to the wealthy. He promised that under his plan, things would be just swell by the end of the decade. At last count, that was eight years away. It’s hard to swallow that Obama failed to make adequate changes in four years when Ryan’s basically saying he’d need double that time. But then again, you know how Ryan is with math.
The conversation divulged into Ryan describing Mitt as a family man, which somehow led to a story about Romney paying for some kids in his ward to go to college. I thought about my student loans and for the first time in my entire life, I wished my parents had bothered indoctrinating me into the lucrative industry of religion. Uncle Joe called out Paul Ryan’s quote about how 30 percent of the country wants a welfare state. Ryan tried to explain Romney and himself. But nobody believed him.
“Get ‘em Biden,” someone yelled at the screen.
I took a look around the bar. A server with face tattoos was dropping off a plate full of tapas to the candlelit table across the way. He clearly couldn’t care less what either candidate had to say—he just wanted to get his tips and get the fuck out of there. The $90 million in green pork Ryan was spouting off about didn’t seem to affect him. Clark ordered us another round of beers and pointed out a table full of cute girls we could interview after the debate was over.
Biden kept interrupting but the closed captions made it hard to tell who was saying what. Ryan kept smiling and Joe kept laughing, and as far as I could tell, it was a real upbeat and friendly debate between two guys who hated each other. They discussed Medicare in such drastically different ways that you’d think they were talking about two separate things. They accused each other of trying to destroy the healthcare program and I couldn’t help but believe them both.
The liberal fallout from the first presidential debate had a lot to do with Obama failing to call Romney out on his blatant mistruths, and Biden wasn’t about to let that happen again. In as many words, he called Ryan a liar and asked the viewers who they’d rather believe, the vice president or the asshole next to him. Ryan responded by saying the Obama administration had been caught with their hands in a cookie jar that turned out to be a piggy bank called Obamacare, which caused everyone even remotely paying attention to audibly sigh. Ryan then went on to say his voucher system would guarantee 100 percent coverage—a blatant lie. Someone asked the bartender to change the channel. Ryan said Joe was being misleading because that’s what politicians do, but everyone knew that was a misleading statement.
Both men claimed to be bipartisan though it was entirely clear neither one of them was. It’d been awhile since I’d looked at the undecided voter first responder wave. It was hovering around the neutral mean. Apparently they’d grown tired of paying attention too.
What about the war in Afghanistan? Ryan said it would be foolish to cut defense spending. Then Biden dropped the name Osama Bin Laden. Ole Joe felt it was time for the Afghan people to take responsibility for their own country, and that by leaving we’d be saving billions. You’d think that would make a deficit hawk like Ryan happy, but no, Ryan felt that by leaving we’d only (and here’s a word that always pisses me off) “embolden” the enemy. The military didn’t need timelines—they needed more money. It’s weird how the deficit is the biggest thing in the world until it’s not. Ryan would rather people relied on witch doctors than spend a single dime of public funds to see a dentist, but when it came to funding submarines (which I’m sure are super important for combating Al Qaeda), the sky’s the limit.
The pair discussed Libya and Syria in moral terms, skipped topics like the Congo altogether and jumped back into domestic affairs. Both men are Catholic, and their doctrine was explicitly against abortion. How much did their religion impact their personal stances on abortion? Ryan didn’t skip a beat before answering. He was pro-life because of Catholicism and science. OK, go on. Life begins at conception, and if it looks like a baby on an ultrasound, it’s a baby, simple as that, except in cases of incest or “credible” rape. Then it’s OK to have an abortion.
Wait, what? That didn’t exactly sound consistent. If life is life and an unborn baby is a baby, shouldn’t it logically be a crime to have an abortion regardless of it being conceived in the worst possible way? Something about that line of logic is even more insulting than just being 100 percent against abortion in the first place. It’s like being pro-life and pro-death penalty at the same time. It just doesn’t make sense. You’d imagine Ryan, a stalwart proponent of pro-choice economics, who is against government intrusion on business, would just as vehemently oppose legislating women’s bodies. But I guess I’m just being simple-minded. The women in Mimi’s seemed particularly unhappy with Ryan’s answers, but you know how girls are, always trying to claim their bodies are their own affair without taking into consideration what men think.
Uncle Joe claimed to be defined by his religion too, but he clarified that he sculpted himself out of the social doctrines of Catholicism, specifically caring for those who couldn’t care for themselves. As far as abortion went, he opposed imposing his own views on others. He didn’t feel he had the right to tell people how to control their own bodies. Clark and I cheersed to that before ordering another round.
Their closing statements were completely uneventful except for Paul Ryan looking straight into the camera and giving some creepy pandering pledge about the same old garbage directly to the American voters. They followed it up with the usual handshake and how you holding up type deal as the pundits rejoiced on an electrifying draw. Back at Mimi’s, the crowd rejoiced as the bartender finally changed the channel.
Clark and I asked around to see if anybody thought there was a clear-cut winner. Some people said Biden, but most people said it didn’t matter we were fucked either way. They’d then go on a charged explanation about why it was pointless, which in itself showed they cared at least a little. From what we gathered, when two candidates sit down and call each other liars while offering up half-truths in their own defense, it’s hard to trust either of them. No wonder so many people in this country hate thinking about politics. I looked over across the bar and noticed the table formerly filled with cute girls was now vacant.
“There’s something kind of depressing about it,” I thought out loud to the girl next to me.
“That’s because it’s kind of a depressing thing,” she replied matter-of-factly.
We got back on our bikes and headed home. Our trip was haulted when Clark crashed his bike on a rough pothole, ejecting my computer case and his camera into the street. But other than a gnarly gash and a bruised ego, Clark was OK. Dejected, we limped our bikes towards the ER. Along the way, I wondered how the Steelers game went.
Face tattoo photo by Lora
Mimi’s photos by Kaitlyn Fae Barrett
By Mike AbuOctober 12, 2012, 2:30pm