I don’t believe in the undecided voter.
Let me be clear on this: I am not saying that I doubt the sincerity of someone who declares today, three weeks before an election that we’ve all been hearing about for years, that they have no idea for whom they are going to vote. Nor am I arguing that I personally lack faith in that dwindling few who call themselves “undecided” about the election. What I am saying is that I think “the undecided voter” is a chimera, a mirage, a Hollywood marriage, a coherent plotline this season on Revenge. Such a thing does not exist.
Unfortunately, this Tuesday night, the rest of America has to sit through a 90-minute pantomime by the nation’s Unicorns of Uncertainty in the second 2012 presidential debate. This quadrennial “running of the mulls” almost makes you feel sorry for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Each will be forced to pretend that they’d rather do nothing else in the world other than listen to Victor Vacillation grill them about the federal deficit or Mary I-could-vote-for-anybody-at-this-point tell them about her recent visit to a pharmacist and demand a sympathetic response to the cost of the pills she needs to ease her bursitis.
As for the rest of us, we will rouse ourselves from our utter disinterest by judging the candidates on their capacity for manufactured emotion. We will ask whether or not their voice shook enough—or perhaps too much—at some random person’s sob story. We will seek out our fainting couches if the president dares forget the first name of one of his sacred interrogators. We will set the pitchforks after Mitt Romney if he happens to glance at his watch because just for a moment he forgot to act like he wasn’t bored. It is legend now that this very act—and not a flagging economy—ruined George H. W. Bush’s presidency forever.
Since my wife should not have to suffer alone, the following is a list of things I’ll be screaming at the TV on Tuesday night.
1. YOU ARE NOT AN UNDECIDED VOTER!
Mr. or Ms. America, I don’t know how you were picked for this forum, but there’s no way on earth you truly do not know who you are voting for in November. Maybe you are like my grandmother, who always knew exactly what she was going to do on any given day, but loved mulling all sorts of alternatives just in case she decided not to go shopping downtown for once in her life. Or maybe you just wanted to get on TV and mimic that “oh so concerned” look that you see reporters perfecting whenever they talk about “real” issues. Usually we can tell from your question if you are secretly for Obama or Romney. You are not fooling anyone. Also: you definitely do not represent me, so please don’t at any point claim that you do.
2. GET A CLUE!
Inevitably someone is going to ask Romney or Obama some version of the following: how have you been personally affected by the economic downturn? Here’s the answer: they haven’t! Obama and Romney are MILLIONAIRES. Your humble moderator is also doing pretty well, and so are all the people who are going to be on TV talking about your question later in the evening. And yes, unless someone whispered it in their ear as they headed on stage, chances are neither Romney nor Obama knows the price of milk, or how much it costs to buy bread, or the average grocery bill. That alone does not make them monsters.
3. This one is for the candidates: YOU ARE NOT BILL CLINTON!
Do not try to be. The feat is too dangerous for mere mortals to attempt. The town hall debate format was created for the former president, and nobody performs it as well—from the intense, sympathetic stare, the commiserating nod of the head when a sad story is told, to the repetition of the questioner’s name with a tone that makes it sound like that person’s story of woe will haunt Bill Clinton for the rest of his life until he personally puts things right. Nobody does connection, even faux connection, as well as Bubba.
In fairness to President Obama, he can relate to the average American extremely well, if the average American enjoys Harvard seminars, relentless exercise, and not eating anything. As for Mitt Romney, he can’t even get his garbage man to stop talking trash about him.
Unfortunately we just know that both candidates will try their very best to appear likable and open, which leads me to …
I don’t know who will be worse at trying to appear normal and human. And I don’t know exactly how it will happen, but one of them almost certainly is going to creep America out. And lastly …
5. WHO CAME UP WITH THIS FORMAT ANYWAY?
I’ll probably not be the only person yelling this by the time the evening is over.