By Ciro Scotti Last night was Debate Night USA. Perhaps you tuned in. But what did America really see after months of endless campaigning, hundreds of millions of dollars lavished on attack ads, and enough cheap talk (as my mama used to say) to drive any sane citizen off the nearest bridge?
Answer: Two flawed candidates -- George Walker Bush and John Forbes Kerry -- both of the same generation and privileged class, but who differ largely in style. Two representatives of the major-party duopoly that controls the debates, the political process, and the country.
You don't agree? Let's look at the Tale of the Presidential Tape.
Bush is 58. Kerry is 61.
Both went to New England prep schools (Bush to Andover, from which both his father and Kerry's father graduated. Kerry to St. Paul's).
Both went to the same college (Yale).
Both joined the same secret society (Skull & Bones).
Both served in the military. Bush was an officer in the Air National Guard (a good way to avoid Vietnam combat). Kerry was an officer in the U.S. Navy (usually a safer alternative than the Army in those days).
Kerry saw combat and became an antiwar activist after his discharge. Bush never served overseas, disengaged from the Guard after being trained as a pilot, and worked on the political campaign of a Bush family friend.
Bush went to grad school (Harvard MBA). Kerry went to law school (Boston College).
Bush, bankrolled with family money, pursued a largely unsuccessful career as an independent oilman. Then, again through family connections, he became a part-owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team. Kerry became a prosecutor.
Both ran for Congress and were defeated. Bush was eventually elected governor of Texas, then President. Kerry was eventually elected Lt. Governor of Massachusetts, then U.S. senator.
Both married and had two daughters. Kerry later had his marriage annulled and remarried.
Bush was an Episcopalian, then a Presbyterian, and finally a Methodist (talk about flip-floppers). Kerry is a Roman Catholic. Bush wears his religion on his sleeve. Kerry is more circumspect about his beliefs.
Both are connected to political dynasties (Bush to the Bush Dynasty of his grandfather, Senator Prescott Bush, and his father, former President George H.W. Bush; Kerry to the Kennedy Dynasty, although his own ancestors include John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts, and a great-great-grandfather who was a U.S. senator).
Bush runs, bikes, and clears brush. Kerry skis, bikes, and windsurfs. Both hunt (at least for the cameras).
Both are multimillionaires.
Both are Washington insiders (Bush settled scores for his father from the White House; Kerry has been in the Senate for almost 20 years).
Both are the highly marketed and focus-group-targeted products of two competing political brands owned by Dems Inc. and GOP Inc. Corporate America has enormous equity stakes in both outfits.
Neither, despite all the spin, is a regular guy.
In fact, the only Presidential candidate with a national following who wasn't born with a silver microphone in his mouth is Ralph Nader. Of course, Nader wasn't allowed to participate in the debates, even though his candidacy in 2000 probably determined the outcome of the election.
That's because the Commission on Presidential Debates is a jointly owned subsidiary of the Democratic and Republican parties, and squabble as they may, the last thing they want is to share their lucrative business with some political startup. Why, fresh ideas might be injected into the debate, and who knows where that would lead? Scotti is a senior editor for BusinessWeek in New York and offers his views in A Not-So-Neutral Corner, only for BusinessWeek Online