How I Missed the Republican Presidential Debate

The simple answer: I was on an airplane from Florida at 9 p.m. last night when Fox aired the debates so I missed it. I lacked a device to stream the debate through the airline’s WiFi (assuming I could find the password to the “walled garden” in which Fox makes streaming available, and into which only bone fide residential pay-TV subscribers of Comcast, Verizon, TWC, or some other Fox-carrying legacy TV distributor are admitted).

But, I figured that by the time I got home at 11:30 or so, I’d be able to find some rebroadcast or re-stream somewhere. After opening a few browser tabs to locate a link with, preferably, a video without interruption, where I could enjoy that special pleasure of watching the Republicans duke it out on national TV.

Then I found this: “Fox News is making it difficult to watch the first 2016 GOP presidential debate online. … Fox is closely protecting the only legal stream option, and heavily restricted the venue’s audience.”

I couldn’t help thinking: They must not want me (or others) to actually see the debates. At least not yet. They probably figure that smaller the audience for the kind of adolescent squabbling engaged in by the candidates, the better (I’ve since seen a healthy proportion of out-takes). Later, maybe, when the spectacle is lessened, Fox might be more comfortable with letting CNN or NBC or someone else take over the hosting of the Republicans and, in the process, make the video much more broadly available (hello? C-Span?).

As I see it, the more serious problem—even more serious than the private discretion Fox News seems to have wielded by circumscribing the viewership of the first GOP debate, supposedly a civic activity—is that there is a potentially unbridgeable gulf between the cult of personality by which we elect a president—after watching a series of reality shows we call “debates” and deciding who we like best, kicking the losers off the island while anointing a wise and infallible winner—and the other, real part of the job, in which complex institutions have to be navigated, steered, and nurtured, and powerful and smart operators who’ve staffed the state and federal government for years, all of whom have to be respected, resisted, revered, and commanded all at the same time and all for the public good.

When you think about it, it’s amazing that the winner of the fraternity house free-for-all that takes place at the debates (Republican, Democratic, General, doesn’t matter) frequently turns out to deliver the right candidate for each constituency. It says something about the wisdom of crowds and the genius of our system, even while at the same time it’s counterintuitive. Crowds ordinarily exemplify madness, not wisdom. [see, e.g., Charles Mackay, “Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds,” London: 1852, available at ]

So, no matter where one stands (sits?), videos of future debates should be made as widely available as technology currently permits, whether sponsored by private networks or not (those involved ought to pony-up the fees, particularly since the marginal costs of streaming are near-zero). At this perilous stage of our history, the apparent benefits of our collective wisdom should be given every chance to succeed.

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