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WBFO brings you NPR's live coverage of the Republican National Convention tonight from 9pm-11pm.

Commentary: Substance More Important Than Style in Politics

By Mary-Jo Jagord

Buffalo, NY – The flap over John Kerry's botched delivery of a joke highlights a serious problem with our democracy. Because voters don't seem interested in the intellectual capacity of a person, candidates must always try to appear to be "regular guys." As a result, highly intelligent, thoughtful candidates and politicians resort to sometimes silly and even demeaning behavior to appear "folksy." A favorite strategy is playing dress up! Think, George Bush as Top Gun, Michael Dukakis as tank commander, or John Kerry as duck hunter. What is deemed to be relevant in the political arena crosses party lines, too! Al Gore's sometimes wooden delivery vs. Richard Nixon's sweating on national TV. Things that have absolutely no bearing on the qualifications of a candidate have become the focus of everyone's attention. Electoral politics has devolved into little more than a high school popularity contest, resulting in the lowest quality candidates rising to the top.

Perhaps we should eliminate party primaries and instead, host a series of open-mike comedy club sessions! How about "Survivor, Washington, D.C." or "Dancing with the Candidates?" I suspect that the Bush Administration would really warm up to "Congressional Fear Factor," since they do seem to enjoy scaring the wits out of everyone every election cycle. Rather than hammering John Kerry about a poorly delivered joke, perhaps we should examine why this is such a big news story and, more importantly, why it bodes ill for our democracy. Because the electorate is seemingly unconcerned with substance, politicians have given us theater. The Roman poet Juvenal coined the phrase "bread and circuses" to describe what must be done to keep the public under control. Keep them well fed and entertained and they will follow you anywhere was the basic philosophy. It is not surprising that a somber, thoughtful man such as John Kerry feels compelled to insert jokes into his speeches, even though it's not his strong suit. That he sometimes flubs them doesn't make him less of an honerable man. He still has his Purple Hearts and his lengthy record of public service - things that no amount of sniggering and sniping by Tony Snow or Rush Limbaugh can erase. Come to think of it, George Bush isn't exactly a comedian, either. At least not intentionally, that is.

To those who voted for George Bush because he seemed more likeable I would ask this. Knowing that the President of the United States controls a vast nuclear arsenal (not nucUlar), wouldn't you rather have a President who is smarter than you? Isn't it preferable to have a leader who may not have the most down-home delivery but who actually understands all of the words? I would rather have a wonk, a propeller-head, or geek in the White House than a man who uses words such as strategery, terrifiders and eckalectic. A man who said, "These budget numbers are not just estimates, these are the actual results for the fiscal year that ended February the 30th" and "Border relations between Canada and Mexico have never been better." I know that John Kerry isn't exactly Jerry Seinfeld, but I am certain that he knows February has only 28 or 29 days, and that Canada and Mexico do not share a border.

But we Americans are a determined and resourceful people. Perhaps we can find another solution to this qualifications vs. presentation conundrum. Let's find candidates who are highly intelligent and well-informed, yet are affable and amusing!

Jon Stewart for President, anyone?

Listener-Commentator Mary-Jo Jagord lives in Getzville.