Fortunately, I can try to get a wider view of U.S. politics without the friendly censoring of the media by watching the debate on C-SPAN's website....
Edit: Well, that was hard. [Rant: why the hell Microsoft hasn't been destroyed by mobs of computer users driven insane by Windows Media Player is beyond me. The sound on the video clipped out constantly, while the video kept flowing. Maddening.] There were some real issues discussed here. Naturally, with much articulation of the corruption of democracy involved in the limiting of coverage and "public debate" between what were here called the two "corporate parties" of the Republicans and Democrats. That lined up interesting with what Baroness Shirley Williams of the UK's House of Lords (a Catholic politician and political theorist who also occasionally teaches at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government) said to me in 2002: American democracy, she said, had been more-or-less destroyed in the last 20 years and no one in America apparently had noticed that we now really had a plutocracy, a government by the wealthy. The fact that corporations, which the Supreme Court had recognized as "persons"--news to me, which makes their failure to recognize the unborn as "persons" all the more ironic--are allowed to contribute their vast amounts to both parties at the same time as a matter of "free speech" does seem to end up meaning, as one candidate pointed out, that the wealthy then get to have the right to speech--speech that matters--far more than anyone else in the U.S.. No news there, I suppose.
Points were made and platforms outlined. My Catholic political philosophy makes me more sympathetic to Green interests more than Libertarian ones, but mostly it was interesting just to hear real political debate in a way that we won't get (I cynically assume) during the rehearsed barb-tossing we will see with Bush and Kerry. There were moments and aspects where both candidates seemed quite extreme to me, but that's pretty much the case with the Democrats and the Republicans, too, neither of whom line up particularly well with Catholic Social Justice teaching. I appreciated the hard questions that made the two have to articulate their platforms and made me pray for some anchor with the Dem-Rep debate who was willing to roll the dice on his career, toss aside the agreed-upon questions, and really ask challenging questions of Bush and Kerry.
And lastly, the whole thing ultimately seemed a reflection on the nature of democracy itself, in contrast to the entrenched two-party system. (Remember the frantic terror of the Republicans and Democrats in 2000 about the idea of Green candidate Nader actually getting in the debates, and the police presence barring him from entering even as an audience ticket-holder?) Looking at the list of presidential candidates on C-SPAN's site, some of whom were clearly gag candidates, and some of whom were (apparently) of sincere small parties, it does seem to be a real question of when you (whoever "you" are) do draw the line over who you include in broadcasts and press coverage. Democracy, it seems, remains an ideal only achievable by the full intent of the populace, and can falter at any given moment based upon our choices of how best to let democracy proceed.