Admirers of the Douglas-Lincoln debates may be disappointed when they discover that the Blumenthal-McMahon debates will not determine the election. In fact, the Douglas-Lincoln debates very likely did not of themselves determine the presidential election held two years later in 1860. Then as now, events were in the saddle and rode men. Ours is a time that will be tutored by events we have haughtily ignored.
In Lincoln’s day, public debates reached the people through a highly partisan press, and speeches, as well as debates, were more polished and sonorous. Lincoln stands as a bridge between the tail end of the post Edwardian age and the modern period -- best represented by the bloody casualty figures at Gettysburg and the beginnings of the great fortunes of the rapacious robber barons of The Gilded Age, a heaping up of personal wealth that could not have been accomplished in the absence of a command economy, itself the result of the Civil War.
In Lincoln’s day, the media was little more than a bifurcated party organ; the Republicans had their press, as did the Democrats. The most accurate record of Lincoln’s speeches appeared in the opposition Democratic press, because Democratic media lackeys were not interested in embellishing Lincoln’s public addresses, an office they performed only for Douglas. The opposite is also true: Douglas’ speeches were most accurately represented in the opposition Republican press, coming as they did straight from a stenographic record.
In the post modern age – that would be us – voters in the know have come of age and are fully capable of reading between the lines of Connecticut’s left of center media reports.
Ned Lamont probably was right when he scored the Blumenthal-McMahon “debate” – really an extended press conference – as a draw. Winners in such contests are determined not so much by a studious examination of what is said but rather by expectation gaps.
Going into the debate, the state’s left of center media had Mrs. McMahon put down on their scoring cards as a light weight contender unwise to the ways of duplicitous Washington. Mr. Blumenthal, puffed up by the media over a 20 year period as St. George the dragon killer, at one time was expected to roll over the novice and uncover her, once for all, as a dissolute rich lady unbothered by drug use and necrophilia. In the debate, Mrs. McMahon failed to live down to these low expectations of her. And somewhere on his path to glory, Mr. Blumenthal fell from grace when it was discovered by an out of state newspaper that he lied about his service record, blighting a two decade old self contrived narrative. Those in the media who believe that only cradle-to-grave representation is fit service in the U.S Congress were disappointed.
The expectation going in was that Mr. Blumenthal would recover sufficiently from his lethargy, and he did not disappoint, though much of his presentation was boiler-pate bumper sticker.
Mr. Blumenthal was caught in somewhat of a snare when Mrs. McMahon asked him to describe how wealth – as in Adam Smith’s “The Wealth Of Nations” -- is produced. Answer: Not through attorney general suits.
One of the questioners ought to have asked Mr. Blumenthal how, in a command economy in which the minimum wage is determined outside the market place in the smoke free back rooms of Congress and the White House, he would know when the minimum wage was set too high or too low.
Mrs. McMahon very likely would have been able to answer the question. This was exactly her worry when the minimum wage question came up in an earlier venue. Her answer as to whether she would support a minimum wage got her in Dutch with rhetoricians in Mr. Blumenthal’s smoke free back rooms. An ad was quickly produced proclaiming that Mrs. McMahon wanted to reduce or abolish the minimum wage. One real reporter, Paul Bass of the New Haven Independent, noted the claim was bogus. But nearly everyone else went along with the imposture, happily manureing Mr. Blumenthal’s verdant pastures. Mrs. McMahon has come to expect such partisanship from the state’s status quo media.
In Lincoln’s time a politician forced to suffer the buffetings from a hostile press, were he wealthy enough, might have started his own newspaper. Or he might have bought the services of a rival paper. Or he might have purchased the affections of an editor or two with a polite bribe. In the post modern period, we have ads. In Connecticut, where reporters and editors have stopped digging for the truth about their pet politicians, one must be grateful for small favors.