THE PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: OUR MOST WATCHABLE REALITY SHOW

December 2nd, 2011

What else explains the Herman Cain phenomenon?

Has Americans’ saturation-level consumption of television led them to confuse the lengthy presidential election campaign with a reality-TV show?

It’s hard to miss the similarities — starting with the obvious point that both contests play out over months on TV.

As in a reality show, comparison among the candidates is made during set-piece competitions, in which televisually exciting stumbles or triumphs — which have little relationship to the contestant’s presidential abilities — may make a huge difference to the audience’s ultimate judgement.

As in a reality show, presidential contestants are effectively voted off from time to time.

As in a reality show, physical appearance, ability to deceive and entertainment value are worth more than past achievement and experience.

As in a reality show, a contestant’s “back story” –  overcoming adversity, especially — is important, and even within the competition an “underdog coming from behind” theme can help a lot.

How better to explain the persistence of the Herman Cain campaign? I mean, here’s a guy who seems unqualified for any serious political office, let alone the presidency, yet somehow he has managed to stay relatively high in the polls (sometimes atop them) for months and months — and in recent weeks despite increasing evidence that he is also a habitual deceiver and maybe even clinically delusional. Would Americans have cut him this much slack if they truly saw him as a potential leader of their country, rather than a mere contestant on a TV show?

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POSTSCRIPT:

Confirmation!  The moderator of the next Republican debate will be none other than reality-show star Donald Trump.

And here is Arianna Huffington (12/4) on ABC’s This Week:

“The lines between a reality show and the campaign process are getting thinner and thinner,” she said. “And now, with the breathless way in which the media awaited the news of Herman Cain’s suspension of his campaign were really amazing. Basically right now, we should give them a reality show — ‘Keeping up with the Cainses’ — and hashtag ‘winning back Mrs. Cain’ and really make it a reality show.”

POST-POSTSCRIPT:

I knew that our presidential reality show was missing something…  Cheerleaders!

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