Viewers achieve debate fatigue

Third time fails to charm anyone


October 15, 2004|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

Please, who cares who won the final debate?

Who cares anymore to listen about Pell grants and tort reform and fiscal discipline and a "global test" and a "culture of life"?

Who cares who's a Catholic or lesbian or a lesbian Catholic!?

Who cares who won't be getting a flu shot?

We got it now. Messages delivered. Facts stretched and checked. Stow the lecterns and green, yellow and red lights. President Bush and Sen. John Kerry are very different - although they both agree that women are pretty cool and we should listen to our women and trade-up whenever possible. Tell us something we don't know. And they both pray. Check.

Sorry, sorry. That's just "Debate Fatigue" talking - a clinically diagnosed syndrome afflicting conscientious Americans who watch every minute of every debate to absorb every fact. And certainly we fall into this category because we care about the issues in this dead-heat election, and we also believe women are cool.

We diligently followed the third and final "Who's Your President?" debate and never once defected to the basement to watch the Yankees squash the Red Sox and Pedro "Who's Your Daddy?" Martinez. No way we did that. The three presidential debates were too substantive and important, and if there's an undecided voter still left in this country, please leave this country.

Sorry again. Take all the time you need, undecided voter person, who probably got a flu shot at the expense of an elderly person's chance of survival.

See, this was bound to happen - a punch-drunk Republic perhaps overdosed on debates and debating the debates and now gutlessly attacks undecided voters. Can't we just vote already? By the third installment of the debate trilogy, attention spans seemed to collapse. Re-told figures bled into other figures, and claims morphed into other claims. Mid-debate napping was reported in some households.

At some point, citizens lose the strength to note presidential scowling. At some point, even presidential candidates seem to lose the will to debate. Kerry looked weary Wednesday night, and some of us felt his weariness. He seemed to have that do-we-have-to-go-over-this-again? look. No, we don't.

The president, on the other hand, looked game for another debate - although it remains unclear exactly what type of West Texas picture hangs in the White House and why is this important to him to mention in his closing statements. Something about the sunset or sunrise. Either way, the time for debating is over.

There's no question these debates were well-watched. More people tuned in to the third debate than the second debate, according to Nielsen Media Research. Nearly 51.2 million viewers watched Wednesday's event, compared with 46.7 viewers for the second contest. The first debate won hands-down with 62.5 million viewers.

But it's time for the main event. The debates, bless them, were substantive and important, but there comes a point in the course of human events when staged and organized talking must come to an end.

Some presidential scholars would argue that point comes when, say, the Yankees' John Olerud drills a two-run homer off the Red Sox's Martinez.

This is all open for debate, of course.

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