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Time to take a break from the political reality show


Fri, Jul 25th, 2008
Posted in Commentary

Now that the presidential primary contests have ended, enthusiasm for the real Presidential race seems to have dissipated. At least it has for me.

Initially, both Democratic and Republicans primary races were filled with a special drama that was not seen in some time. There were many candidates in each party vying for delegates. Each candidate worked very hard at presenting their ideas to us the public, hoping we would vote for them.

The television news programs, especially the cable networks (MSNBC, CNN, Fox) attempted, in sometimes creative ways, to cover the stories of the candidates and the programs and issues they espoused. It was presidential primaries, all day, every day, 24/7. TV screens were filled with pundits, experts, analysts, demographers, cartographers, social scientists, reporters, and pollsters and Sunday mornings on ABC, CBS, or NBC took on the aura of either post-game (what happened last week) or pre-game (what must they do this week) analysis.

We were given the opportunity to e-mail questions to candidates, call them, or write to them. And, during some debates we were treated to "questions from viewers just like you" via YouTube. All of this became a new version of reality television. Each week or so there would be a new episode.

We were given an opportunity to watch the candidates as they tried to find their way out of the jungle or convince us and the other judges that they could really dance from their performances in town hall meetings, quasi-debates, and face to face interviews. We (or the people of the states in which the primaries were being held) would then be given a chance to vote them off the island. The winners and those in 2nd or 3rd place would move on to the next episode and the losers would disappear.

What we found out later of course, that as with the "real" reality TV, where things are manipulated for their entertainment value, the questions on YouTube or the ones being thrown at the candidates in the town hall meetings were not as spontaneous as the presenters would have us believe. The shows became more and more about TV ratings and less about substance.

Being voted off the island must have been a great disappointment for the losers. But losers they were. For some candidates it wasn't that their ideas were not good, it was lack of votes and lack of money. For some reason these people could not generate the energy in their campaigns necessary to garner a following of supporters large enough to allow them to continue.

As the number of candidates decreased the intensity of the rhetoric increased. When there were three left standing in each party it really got good. For the Republicans, Arkansas Governor Huckabee became the story for a while. Initially little known nationally, his down-home style, his humor, and his conservative credentials carried him for some time. Former Governor Romney, he of the quick smile, almost too good looks, conservative attitudes, very deep pockets, and business background, kept his story alive with the voters. Senator McCain, the straight talking maverick, thought to have been voted off the island early on, some how managed to swim back, gain a foothold on the beach, and rising like Phoenix, gained the traction necessary to convince the voters they might have made a mistake.

These three fought hard. Words were their weapons. As the shows continued it became clear that the underdog, the one with the least money, the hard charging, hard fighting maverick became the darling of the media and the people. Subsequently, the others were voted off and Senator McCain stood alone as the winner.

The previews by the media critics of the Democratic reality show prior to its premier in February said it wouldn't offer much in the way of drama. Senator Clinton was thought to be so strong that her rivals had no chance and that they would be easily and swiftly voted off the Iowa island. The show, everyone thought, would be over by February 5th. But, as the show unfolded, unexpected and unanticipated action developed. Senator Obama, coming out of nowhere, or so it appeared, unveiled a stunning victory and the race was on. Former Senator Edwards, casting himself as the populist candidate was not as popular as once thought. With each new show he fell further behind; finally, resigned to his fate, he voted himself off the island.

With Senator Edwards gone, Senators Clinton and Obama had the Democratic show to themselves. They danced, they sang, they fought, they talked, they whined, and they pleaded with the judges to not vote them off. One week Senator Clinton would get enough votes to stay on the show with Senator Obama getting just enough to stay in the race. The next week the opposite would happen.

As the season progressed from February through the first week of June it became more and more apparent that the unlikely candidate, Senator Obama, would get enough votes to be declared the victor. And so it was. During those four and half months the drama was intense. It was difficult not to watch the show and read the reviews on a daily basis. But, after Senator Obama's victory there was, at least for me a let down. Rather than anticipating an exciting new reality show starring Senator Obama and Senator McCain, I found I was politically spent.

I have no desire to watch the new show even though it is only in previews. Sure there are interesting things on the show now. Who will be each candidate's running mate; who is the biggest flip-flopper; who knows more about the economy; who has a better plan to extract us from the Middle East morass? But, alas, right now I don't have it in me to watch the show. I feel numb, my ears scarred by having taken in too many words from too many people on too many shows. Summer time is a time for vacations, for relaxation, for rejuvenation. When the show resumes in earnest in the fall, when the importance of it all once again becomes important to me, I'll tune in.

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