Monday, January 9, 2012

The Difference Between "American Idol" and Politics: None

"A new poll showed that if the election was held today, people would be confused because it is normally held in November."     --Kevin Nealon

It’s official. There’s a new reality TV show champ on the American boob tube, a 24/7 circus like spectacle which portrays the trivial as profound and the minor as major. Right before our eyes it transforms six folks into overblown pop culture cartoon figures.  No, it’s not the Kardashian clan, nor the warblers on “American Idol”, the hoofers on “So You Think You Can Dance”, or even the poor souls on “Wife Swap” or “Hoarders”.  At least those offerings are only on once or twice a week and play on a minor cable channel like 954.  This “show” is instead shown wall to wall and every day, on all three major networks and on all the news channels too, is given blanket coverage on the net and is finally impossible to escape. 

It’s the race for the Presidency of the United States among the Republican candidates: Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, and Jon Huntsman. Let’s not forget those already voted off the island: Herman Cain (for not being able to keep his hands to himself), Michelle Bachman (who got one vote for each of the 99 Iowa counties she visited) and Tim Pawlenty (the first to declare last March and the first to drop out and it’s ok if you don’t know who he is).

To be clear: if a GOP person was in the White House and a bunch of Democratic folks were wrestling for the Presidency, I’d already be fed up with that race too.  Not because whomever is going to be sworn in as President in January 2013 isn’t important.  In light of all the major challenges our country faces, who the next President will be or if a second term for our current President is in the offing: this is a very important question. The man or woman who takes the oath in January 2013 will face one of the most daunting tasks in the history of our nation. They should be given fair and appropriate levels of coverage by the media so we in the electorate can make a wise decision.  But really…that’s not what is happening now. Not by a long shot.

Instead this race feels more like a media saturated death march, a slow, slogging, often silly game show, a horse race even, all gleefully handicapped by voracious talking heads who crown themselves the arbiters of truth.  Consider that the race began earlier than ever before, earlier than any other Presidential election in our history, ten months before even one caucus vote was cast, 600 days before the election next November. 

That the candidates have now slugged it out in twenty debates since last spring, the most ever, and last weekend they debated twice in less than twelve hours. That right there, to catch every gaffe and glitch, every pre-rehearsed “spontaneous” laugh line, every well coiffed haircut and every right in focus carefully placed American flag lapel pin is…the camera. That post debate, the media room where the candidates’ handlers gather to talk to reporters is unashamedly called “the spin room”.

I know I should be more grateful that in the mess called American democracy and the mess called a free press we as Americans are still blessed with such open and transparent if not perfect electoral politics.  Pity the poor folks of Egypt who are dying to secure these rights or the Russians who live under the violent lash of the dictator Putin or the Chinese who have but one party to vote for.  I am thankful that candidates have to test their mettle in the fire of running for office.  I just wish it was dialed down a bit and featured more heat and substance and less froth and slickness. 

For finally politics is not a game. It is not a reality show. It is not a sport or a gladiator like competition.  Governing, like any great calling, having a faith in God or raising a family or serving the world: it matters.  It is important.  And what we do politically in 2012 ultimately will determine the future of our nation and our world and those stakes are just too high to be trusted to pre-programmed candidates or a ratings obsessed media.

So please…just wake me up next September when the real Presidential election season begins. For now I’m sticking to “Storage Wars” on A&E as my favorite reality TV show.  Lots of fun to watch and absolutely nothing at stake. See you in the fall.

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