When I was 13 and was at that confused age when I was starting to consider that the idea that girls had the lurgie was liable to get me called "gay," (which I failed to avoid regardless for reasons that will be explained elsewhere), I joined the Debating Society and was signed up to oppose the motion, "This House cannot tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi." Yes, I know, it's not exactly an edifying or worthwhile topic, but the same term we also had "This House prefers the sound of nails scratching a blackboard to that of the saxophone" and "This House cannot abide the Teletubbies." What do you expect, WE WERE KIDS.
Anyhow. My opponent was a lanky piss-streak with a Sid the Sexist perm called Duncan who everyone seemed to find inexplicably funny and was a manipulative little queynte as well. This was 1998 by the way. However, he was Popular and I was Not Popular. So, we went our separate ways and prepared. For my part, I ended up writing off to Britvic and preparing something based on the response which showed, from memory, that although the ingredients might be the same and it might look the same, surely the proportions are different, the legend of how the recipe for Coke was safeguarded, and the New Coke débacle of the 1980s, in which Coke upped their sugar content massively to beat off the sweeter blue opposition and lost massive sales as a result.
His argument was to claim (probably disingenuously) to have done a double blind taste test on folks in his local vicinity, point to the fact that holding them both up to the light caused them to be "interesting red," and similar.
What he also did, though, was to prepare in other ways. Specifically:
- He rounded up mates as hecklers to scream abuse and laugh whenever I opened my mouth.
- He seeded closer mates with questions designed to cause FUD about my arguments. For instance, he got one kid to ask me why, if the recipe was a secret, it was published in the Times just the other day. Needless to say, when up on the stump, one cannot exactly go and disprove this.
- He basically relied on me being Not Popular to see if people would turn up just to vote against me. With some encouragement, some of them did.
- Then there was just plain ad hominems. Would you believe such a person as Hazelnut, who is Not Popular, and probably Gay? ran the argument.
The final score was 13-3, with 4 abstentions (those four were the chaps who were chucked out for heckling too much.) Against me.
I thought it was massively unfair at the time, he should have had the common courtesy to engage on the arguments, but then again, now I see the current Presidential election in America and, well, it's like this on a bigger scale. Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney seem to care about actually engaging each other on the issues. It's more a case of Obama's mob shout about how Mitt is super rich and therefore suspicious in and of himself, how the Republican party is awash with people who can't open their mouth but to change feet, how Mitt Romney is out to snatch benefits from starving teary-eyed orphans, and how he'll personally deploy troops to your uterus to stop you having an abortion. Then the Romney lot come forward and crow about how Obama's lot will steal your money in taxes and give it to crack whores, how they'll personally invite Al-Qaeda to crash a plane into your house, and how they'll personally outsource your jobs to illegal Mexican immigrants. Not to mention the spreading across social networks of viral images made of FUD, for which both sides are responsible.
Yet when you look at the pair of them, in the polls right now, according to the BBC poll of polls, they're both on 49%. The voters quite literally cannot make up their mind because nobody knows what either of them stands for. Both say, we'll fix the economy, we'll get out of Afghanistan, and only really differ on minor fringe issues such as abortion and gay marriage, and only then to pander to their respective base.
And they probably both spend much money on heckling, private dicks to get embarrassing Youtube fodder, and so forth.
But the thing is, like the Coke versus Pepsi debate, this is how politics work. You don't say anything, you just engage in whorish manipulation and denigration of one's opponent. Because this is what wins you elections. You explain rationally how you're going to fix the economy, voters turn over to Mad Men so they can gaze at Christina Hendricks' bottom. You call the opponent a sister-fucking inbred dolt, he has to deny it, you come to blows, and, well, it's better than EastEnders, that is! Suddenly you're seen as a rational person who is sticking up for the silent majority, not incestuous deviants like that guy on the other bench.
Who loses out from all this? Why, you, the voter, do, because you're deprived of any real knowledge of what they stand for (which is probably what the market research says people are worried about this week) and have to choose between the guy who is Popular and the guy who is Not Popular. You can be the smartest chap in the room and actually have all the answers, but if your opponent is able to fire off a soundbite and a portion of ratfucking with a side order of FUD, you will lose. And when the direction a large world power is at stake, it's too important to become a popularity contest.
Is it really any wonder that the turnout in recent elections in both the US and UK has been through the floor?