I was desperate to let my children understand that fun didn’t have to stop when they went back to school, so I took them all over to the local zoo. And there were a few parents who had the same idea. It was a hot day and after watching the eagles, vultures, porcupines and wolves we took a break in the “Cougar Cafe.” Don’t laugh. That’s what it was called.

The cafe was small and the children all drank their drinks while pawing through colorful stuffed animals. A group of adults gathered around a round table where a young man was seated in a headless Puma mascot suit drinking a cold soda. The big Puma head was at his feet staring blankly at the floor. It was such an odd sight I almost laughed. The group was conversing about the recent political firestorm.

The oldest man sitting there in a red sweater vest leaned back in his chair as if he were holding court lecturing on the recent political firestorms. I could tell the others around him weren’t really listening to him in any real sense. They were just waiting for his mouth to stop moving so they could speak. In fact, they weren’t in actually talking to each other. They were taking turns lecturing.

The man said that when the news about Sarah Palin’s daughter first broke, he said he was concerned about how people would react. He didn’t say how he reacted. He wondered if this would play well with conservatives and he questioned whether it would instigate a media free-for-all.

He said that if McCain’s campaign had introduced the issue of the 17 year old’s pregnancy earlier before they introduced her it would’ve deflated the entire issue.

One mother, inexplicably drinking hot coffee in the heat, said that the McCain camp didn’t want to let on who their Vice President pick was because they were depending on the media to fill their Friday morning shows with speculation as to who the Veep pick was. She said that they couldn’t release any info because if Palin were announced then the story of the day likely would’ve reverted to Obama’s speech the night before.

The headless Puma offered that they should’ve released it the same day because everyone knows political campaigns release bad news on Fridays. So why did they wait until Monday, he asked. It shows that the McCain campaign isn’t a tightly run ship.

One mother said Obama was brilliant for saying the press should lay off of Palin because he gets the credit for being nice while knowing that the media would continue to dog her every step. It occurred to me that she meant it as a compliment.

They talked about how the Palin pick was meant to solidify the base and possibly reach out to women. But something struck me. Nobody said whether they liked her. Nobody said how they felt about this 17 year old pregnant girl being dragged into the spotlight. None of them spoke about anything real. Nobody said how they felt or thought. The conversation was all strategy. We know so much now about politicians now but it hasn’t helped us to understand politics better.

The media too doesn’t report what happened anymore. They speculate about the motives behind what happened. There are no Murrows in the press. We are all Freuds’ now. They don’t talk about the speeches. They examine the delivery and they name the speechwriters. They talk about the reactions they believe people might feel and the people watch to find out how they should feel.

It could be that it’s just because everyone knows where they stand in politics now. We’re a 45%/45% country with only ten percent undecided so maybe most of us think nothing is gained by talking issues. But I don’t think it’s that. I also don’t think it’s just that we have become a style over substance country. I think it’s worse. We’ve actually confused style for substance. We’ve bought into the political axiom that perception is reality.

But our keen perception hasn’t given us depth of understanding. In the end, the headless Puma at the end of the conversation finished his soda and said he had no intention of voting for any of them. They’re all dirty, he said. The older man in the red sweater vest nodded his head sagely and said, “No argument there. No argument there.”