In my last post, I declared that I would be listening to each of the participants in the first round of the Democratic presidential candidate debates for some hint of generosity, compassion, and wisdom in their remarks. Well, not long into the first evening’s debate, I started feeling a little like the hapless hero of that old pop tune, the guy who was “lookin’ for love in all the wrong places”. There I was, looking for compassion on a debate stage whose ten occupants were focused mostly on creating a visual moment that could go viral on social media and thereby boost their poll numbers. What I heard instead was a lot of interrupting, grandstanding, and in a few cases, personal attacks. Hardly what Buddhism refers to as “skillful speech”.
With hindsight, I guess this was to be expected. The format of these early debates – crowded as they are with so many candidates – all but guarantees this kind of behavior. Attention goes to the ones who speak up the most forcefully, and at this early stage, media attention is to a campaign what oxygen is to a person – the very substance that keeps one alive.
The fact that Kamala Harris is considered to have scored the biggest “win” – largely if not entirely due to her impassioned verbal confrontation with Joe Biden – would seem to validate this assertion.
My conclusion: we’ll have to wait until the candidate field has been narrowed down before this form of one-upmanship abates. Ironically, it will probably take even more of this one-upmanship in order to accomplish the very narrowing down that will hopefully bring about its end. Then, perhaps, the debate stage will morph from one of the above-mentioned “wrong places” to, in fact, the perfect place to listen for words of generosity, compassion, and wisdom.
I’ll be waiting.