Take out the trash
The Zeitgeist in this country has been mined and mirrored by politicians and their advisors for decades. Consider the 1988 campaign, when the Bush forces overwhelmed Michael Dukakis with a series of low-tech, trashy negative ads. Critics (and Democrats) are still smarting over these “out-of-bounds” commercials, but the Bush Sr. campaign was simply following the era’s popular culture trends. At that time, such talk-show hosts as Geraldo Rivera and Morton Downey Jr. were captivating the masses with what became known as “Trash TV” — highly confrontational shows that attracted an audience primarily through the shock value of insulting guests and instituting brawls. The Willie Horton ads that year may have seemed excessively inappropriate to the Democrats and their button-down candidate, but not to a nation that had become accustomed to, well, trash.
Which brings us to today. During the past decade, if there’s one type of programming that’s been pushed relentlessly, it’s reality television. The whole concept of reality TV is the same as Idol: anyone can be famous, so much so that we can eliminate the professionals and make “the people” the stars. Again, it’s a democratic and very traditional American idea, but it’s never before had the political currency it has now.
Yes, under recent standards, surely Palin, and perhaps even Obama, would be judged too inexperienced to be a national nominee — even in an era when professional politicians are so despised. But the wild popularity of American Idol has probably changed all that. If the average American can sing as well as Britney Spears and get the same record contracts (and even win a Grammy like Kelly Clarkson, or an Academy Award like Jennifer Hudson!), why can’t a hockey mom with two years of statewide political experience in one of our least populous states be on a national ticket?
So, for the next seven weeks, we the people will get to watch and decide which of these extraordinary but ordinary Americans will get to be our ultimate superstar. There’s no business like show business, after all.
Barack Obama: even | this past week: 7-6
John McCain: even | this past week: 6-7
To read the “Presidential Tote Board” blog, go to thePhoenix.com/blog/toteboard. Steven Stark can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.