FLINT - So how'd you enjoy the gubernatorial debate?
I'll pause while you formulate a suitable fib. Take your time.
You: "Oh, I loved it. Nothing like a political debate on a pleasant Sunday evening, that's what I always say, ha ha."
So who won?
You: "Er, um you know, that one guy."
You mean Rick Bernero, or Virg Snyder?
You: "Oh, definitely that Virg Snyder guy. What a powerful performance. He really "
That was a trick. Their names are Rick Snyder and Virg Bernero.
Perhaps I should rephrase the question: Why DIDN'T you watch the gubernatorial debate?
I realize that question positively reeks of cynicism, which may in fact be misplaced. After all, there's every chance in the world that you were among the dozens who likely did watch the one and only debate between Snyder and Bernero last Sunday.
But since I'm hearing few talking about it other than pundits - and to be honest, even they don't seem that interested - I'm going to assume that the ratings for the debate were not spectacular and that you were probably watching football highlights or outside grilling. (Not that I blame you if it's the latter. It was nice out and winter looms.)
The question is, why? Politics have never been as highly charged as they are right now in America. All 148 seats in the Michigan House and Senate are up for grabs, with 81 guaranteed to go to newbies, owing to term limits.
And of course there's the governor's race. Then there's Michigan's wretched economy. And the fact that the state Legislature is hopelessly gridlocked. And ...
Well, you get the picture. You'd think with all that Michigan voters would show SOME interest in the debate.
So why didn't you? And for that matter, why didn't I?
I think Ken Bess of Grayling, who was quoted in the Detroit Free Press the morning after the debate, had the best answer. He said he hasn't decided who to vote for but didn't think that listening to the debate would help him make up his mind.
"It's not a real debate," he said. "They never answer the questions you want them to answer. No matter what they're asked, they just go to one of their talking points."
Again, that may be a bit too cynical, but it's largely true. People yearn for the authentic in their candidates and officeholders.
They want to hear the real views of the actual candidates. They crave an unguarded moment by which to judge.
But candidates for high office these days are pasteurized, sanitized and homogenized for their protection, and voters are intuitive enough to understand that, so why bother watching a debate any debate when there's likely little to be learned?
Now, I'm not smart enough to know how we get back to "authentic," but I do know this - politicians are going to have to risk being real at some point to get our attention back.
Especially on a pleasant October evening when there's a steak on the grill.
EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.