Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Survivor: White House Run!

Someone pinch me! Did I miss the television promos of the latest incarnation of Survivor? Survivor…you know the show…the one where contestants resort to trickery, backstabbing, name-calling, and other levels of duplicity in order to win the prize at the end of the season? It seems this particular “reality” TV program is reality…at its most real. My guess is, since I must have obviously not paid attention to those annoying corner graphics that normally distract me as I watch my favorite network television shows, that what I’m watching on television is Survivor: White House Run, or something to that effect.
That’s how I’m seeing the current run for the White House by the two major contending presidential candidates, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama. It seems that anything in the way of mean-and-bread issues that concern Americans of all stripes has taken a backseat to politics as usual. We hear the ridiculous dollar amounts plopped down by the Republican National Committee on Governor Sarah Palin’s wardrobe, how John McCain (sadly) doesn't know how to operate a computer or surf the web. On the other side, we hear questions about Barack Obama’s questionable ties to domestic terrorists, his lack of patriotism for not wearing a flag pin on his lapel, or Senator Joe Biden’s historical faux paux about how FDR would sit down in front of the television set to address the nation during the Great Depression. So much has been made of these issues that they have inevitably degraded into distortions of reality and truth which has come to symbolize Americans’ discontent with electoral politics. The only Saving Grace this time around is the relative novelty of the race’s candidates; the 1st African-American, 1st female (or Gyno-American if you’re into being PC), the oldest American, and the obligatory white male running for the two highest elected spots in the land.
Despite both the novelty of this election, and the promise of civility (from both sides) of an election where issues would be the focus instead of the distractions of mudslinging and opponent degradation, we have witnessed what could be called “civil muckraking;” gutter politics as usual, but with more gentlemanly articulation. I acknowledge this because, compared to 2004 presidential election where Swiftboating attack ads sank John Kerry’s White House bid and the rush to dig up dirt on President Bush helped bury the network career of Dan Rather, we see a more refined level of nastiness, but with the usual political distractions from the issues. It’s too bad that the Survivor series doesn’t require writers…they could take ideas from what’s going on currently.
Is Sarah Palin’s expensive wardrobe really an issue in an arena where image and image building is not only accepted, but necessary to a shallow electorate (Remember the Kennedy-Nixon debate? The 1st televised presidential debate where the tanned and makeup-laden Kennedy looked like a bronze tiger compared to the plain, go it au naturale Nixon). And what about Obama’s supposedly jab at Palin by his use of the time-worn phrase “lipstick on a pig” remark? He could have just as easily used the equally-aged variation, “perfume on a pig.” Either way, unless one is just so partisan, that he or she is just looking for a way to make this rather innocuous statement about Palin, it’s a meaningless barb. Biden’s slip? Nobody’s perfect, especially us historically-challenged Americans. McCain’s lack of computer savvy? He’s 71-years old…is that so usual a condition among that particular age group? Obama being a "Socialist?" Well, hard to ignore the recent nationalization of banks/lending institutions...if that isn't a socialist move, then I don't know what is.
And what about all this talk about “lack of experience?” This particular distraction non-issue deserves special highlighting because to assume that any American lacks experience for public office reeks of the arrogance of the political class--career politicians who tout the honor in being "public servants." If we truly are The People that the Constitution states that we are, then we are own potential representatives too. And our country's history is full of examples of our representatives coming from among ordinary people, such as Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, who successfully launched a campaign for Congress, as was elected on a platform of gun control after her husband was killed in 1993 by an armed man on a New York subway. And lest we forget that an entire myth of legendary proportions was built around a certain rail-splitter from Illinois who eventually became one of the most honored U.S. presidents during this country’s most crisis-ridden period. Finally, the Founding Fathers had no experience in cobbling together the legal foundation of a country, but that didn't stop them…and most of them were home-schooled, lacking the formal education, political office experience, and 200+ years of history as a reference that both Obama or Palin has as advantages. As with most elections--sadly--innuendo, negative aspersions, interpretations of an opponent's intents that border on conspiracy theory, and outright lies have become integral components of the process. However, these shady actions are poor substitutes for "issues" by [the] candidates, or of "reasoning" by the so-called "enlightened electorate." And this latter non-issue is among the most irrelevant of the distractions of the current campaign. To believe that only the "experienced" can be our logical representatives is analogous to the pre-Reformation Catholic Church's doctrine of the "necessity" of an intercessor (e.g., priest) to represent us or legislate on our behalf before the "God" of public servitude.
The fact that these distractions are brought to us by nearly every television network is what blurs the line between reality and “reality TV.” Backstabbing, name-calling, character assassination and outright lying may make for questionable entertainment, but as a basis of picking the leader of our nation and the Free World? Looking at things from a Big Picture perspective, I can’t say that I blame the candidates for these types of engagements…if We The People would learn to distinguish between TV and tv, and stop caring so much about the smoke-and-mirrors of show over the life-and-death issues of substance, maybe people like me wouldn’t have such a hard time telling the difference what we watch and what I’m watching. Maybe then, we could force our representatives to address issues such as this current crisis economy and external threats (not perceived threats). Because as it stands right now, we're all playing Survivor.


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