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Nina In New York: Election Overload

Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama face off in their final debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. - Oct 22, 2012 (credit: Rick Wilking-Pool/Getty Images)

Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama face off in their final debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. – Oct 22, 2012 (credit: Rick Wilking-Pool/Getty Images)

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By Nina Pajak

Do you hear that? Listen very closely. Be quite still. Don’t make a sound.

Silence.

The debates are over. Boy, does that feel good. Was it just me, or was that rough? Like, really rough? Much rougher than previous years? I feel like we’ve all just been through something traumatic together and come out on the other side.

No matter which candidate you prefer, there was something about the last three weeks that felt particularly brutal. And it’s not necessarily the arguing and the contentiousness and the spinning of facts and the hammering in again and again and over and over of rhetoric and talking points and disputations and five-point plans. Nor is it the steamrolling of moderators or the total disrespect for time limits or debate topics or the concept of sticking to answering the question that was actually asked.

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Of course, that’s all terribly irritating and and aggravating. All of those elements were what made up the screwdriver which was initially inserted into our temples. But something else drove it in deeper. Another force entirely was responsible for bashing it further until our frontal lobes got completely disrupted.

It took me a while to figure out why this has all felt so much worse than it did four, eight, and twelve years ago. I couldn’t see with the proper perspective, until I realized that I was knee-deep in the middle of the problem.

It’s the Internet. More specifically, it’s Twitter.

For every soundbyte, every gaffe, every lie, every attack or assertion or strange phrasing and jokes scripted and off the cuff—every word of every debate, essentially,  there has been a veritable beehive of viewers buzzing away on their phones and computers, tweeting out quotes, picking up on oddities, creating memes, scrambling to fact-check, adding minute-by-minute commentary and analysis and cracking wise. On the one hand, this creates for a rather rich viewing of the debates. It’s far more interesting to watch and read reactions and see what people are clinging onto or refuting at the same exact time. It’s nice for the voters to be able to hear something a politician says and receive a fact-check report before the moderator moves on to the next question. On the other hand, I think we’ve reached a point of total and intolerable saturation. I’m already tired of binders. Hell, I’m already tired of horses and bayonets, and that was only two days ago! Never before have our political moderators had to withstand such intense and immediate criticism of their already quite public performances.

Transparency imposed on politicians is a great thing, but this is exhausting. And has anyone ever really been able to make a decision as to which candidate to choose after watching a televised debate, anyway? Everyone knows the politicians are going to say the same things they’ve already been saying in interviews and campaign speeches, and they’re going to dance circles around problems and fill holes with rhetoric. If you don’t know who you’re voting for yet, it’s probably time to pick up reading. But suddenly, as a result of the tidal wave of online blabbering (which I, myself, do not claim to be too strong to resist), so much has been made of everything. When in the past, things get said and some things get reported back and analyzed the following day, but never with such relentlessness.

I found myself wondering the other night whether voters weren’t all better off back in the days when candidates had no choice but to travel across the country making speeches off the backs of locomotives. If you missed it, you’d probably hear about it from your neighbor or your blacksmith or whatever. Or you could catch him in the next town. The only election fatigue came from walking ten miles uphill both ways to attend. Perhaps in four years, when who even knows what point social media frenzy will have reached, we should consider trading televised debates for whistlestop tours. Or at least asking Twitter to bring back that obnoxious “overload” whale during debate hours. Stupid smug whale.