There is a new “reality” in town!

Yes! And the name of that reality is “US Presidential Campaign 2008”. I’ve been more listening than watching the Democrat debate last night and a weirdly organized discussion about faith and politics today. I have to say i am both amused and shocked.

For those who do not follow, the US presidential election is on the way in about a year and a half from now. Prior to that both parties will hold primaries, sometimes in the beginning of 2008. So, right now the focus is on the battles within each one of the parties. And what could be a better way than making a show out of it?

Indeed, election bears many of the characteristics of a reality show. There is a fight between many and only one will actually win. In the process, participants are put to all kinds of tests with an ultimate goal to be liked by as many people as possible. Finally, the entire process is broadcasted, live of course, on every possible channel.

In the two cases i witnessed so far CNN took the lead. Last night they hosted Democratic candidates debate in New Hampshire. They all were there – eight of them. And there was a host, Wolf Blitze, whose ultimate goal was creating the headlines for tomorrow.

It was a bit bizarre. The questions were obvious. The answers were obvious. The host and the journalists who asked the questions tried to create clashes, but that was actually hard (see the two “obvious” points above). The whole situation reminded me “The Bachelor”. The candidates are there and every one of them knows what is expected from them. So each one is trying to make a best act of an answer that sounds preplanned and never actually contains an answer. One drawback of this presidential reality show compared to all the others is that you still cannot vote with SMS.

Erik nicely labeled it as “political dance” where the candidates are trying to provide a broad and general enough answer to satisfy the median voter. I would simply call it hypocrisy and watching it was a bit frustrating. What does it say about the way politics go these days? How can people, who are obviously playing a game, be treated as leaders? If the entire thing is a game, how can we be surprised that the young people loose their believe in democracy and actually stop voting? What is the difference in the way the election is run compared to a reality show? At the end of the day, choices that those people on political reality show are making, will influence our (and not only) lives, so how can it be just a show?

Or maybe this are the media? All the candidates blamed the media at one stage or another in various bad things that happen to our world and society. Maybe media are to blame for formating the election into a familiar format of a reality show? Is politics too complicated to deal with it substantively? Is life too complicated to deal with it and this is why everything is reduced to a format that seems to satisfy the economic model of a particular TV station? I do view myself as a media scholar, but watching this i feel helpless.

Today we had a spin-off yesterday’s debate when CNN hosted another discussion with the candidates. This time it was about religion. Watching this one you could hear candidates dealing with such important questions as “Is the God on our side in the war in Iraq?”, “What are you asking for when you pray?”, “How will you use prayer when making decisions as a president?”, and more (i’ve probably rephrased the questions, but they are not far from what was actually asked). Now, leaving aside the fact that this debate boldly primed Edwards, Obama, and Clinton, and didn’t have question coming from any other religion representative but Christians, what substantial knowledge can a voter gain from this? Can there be an American president who does not go to Church every Sunday? Can there be a president who does not use God as their primary adviser? Can there be a really open minded president, or president who does not believe in God? What does that have to do with their leadership and management skills? Does it affect their diplomatic abilities? Is that how Americans are making their choices? Shouldn’t more credit be given to people’s intelligence? Frustrating!

But not everything was so sad. At least i now got my own favorite – former Alaska Senator, Mike Grave. He was the only man in the show who at least looked genuine. And that actually made sense. He is probably the only one who owes the least to his political surroundings. The man is towards the end of his career and does not have to dance the political dance as much as the others. This is probably the highest shot he is going to make and he has nothing to loose in terms of future prospects. He is saying what everybody else think. The only problem is that he wasn’t not given much opportunity to talk on that show. If there are any democrats reading this blog – i urge you – go vote Grave! All the candidates are saying the same, but he seems like the only one who can actually do something.

I keep on thinking and digesting what I’ve heard in the last couple of days. Thinking about politics, about society, and of course about the media. I still find it hard to express what is exactly out there that annoys me so much. What i can tell is that i am disturbed.

What do you think?

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9 Responses to “There is a new “reality” in town!”

  1. lennybruce Says:

    I was shocked when I saw that CNN program today about faith. I know that Americans are very into their faith and religion but this program seemed to be some sort of litmus test for the major candidates. Are they sufficiently god fearing to be president? do they pray enough? do they sin? I found it all pretty scary being apparently in the secular minority. is america in the final stages of becoming a western version of iran? thats what I think.

  2. lisa Says:

    From my point of view it just seems like America. Richard Dawkins made an interesting point about the religiosity in American politics (is worth watching the whole thing). He says that the majority of studies comparing IQs of religious and non-religious or secular people show correlation of low IQ with religious people and high IQ with non-religious people. And as you pointed out to be elected president you must claim to be Christian – ie just lie if you’re not. So the presidency is strongly skewed against people who are both honest and have a high IQ!

  3. Leonid Says:

    Well, this is our political system. Nobody claims that it’s most effective or fair. Obvious as it may sound, a democracy favors a majority. If a majority is yellow and stupid, a successful candidate must pretend to be the same.
    Btw about politics, did you by any chance follow the Israeli Labour party primaries and Amir Peretz’s mating dance afterwards?

  4. Dima Says:

    lennybruce: Yes, when i moved to the US, i was surprised to discover how religious this country is. But for the concrete program i don’t know which one is the chicken and which one is the egg. Is it the importance of faith in this society that primes the religious debate or is it the urge to fit election into the reality show format that leads towards a focus on religion as a controversial topic?

    lisa: Thanks for the link! And I liked the “the presidency is strongly skewed against people who are both honest and have a high IQ!”. It seems like this TED serious is specializing on brining in provocative speakers. Interesting indeed. However I need time to digest that talk :)

    Leonichka: Again, i think your statement leads me back to the question of how the majority is constructed. My question is probably more about the role of media in constructing our sense of majority. It’s again the egg and the chicken, but i guess the mediated and the “real” majority mutually shape each other. After all it is from debates like that we are forming our opinion about the “majority”.
    And yes, i did follow the primaries and the follow up. Can’t say it made me happy… :)

    P.S. I love WordPress already – so many comments :)

  5. Leonid Says:

    > P.S. I love WordPress already – so many comments :)

    And note that I have read it immediately. You know why? :)

  6. Michelle Says:

    Remind you that I have another term for “political dance” in my community. “Taichi”

    I like Lisa putting forward a 2002 talk with the point of IQ that addresses CNN discussion on religious presidency.

    My believe in demorcracy is, when you are given the right to choose, go vote for the better one among the candidates, no matter how the setup or all choices not meeting one’s expectation / standard. (That’s one of the most important lessons learnt under British colonial education.)

    And my understanding towards “Politics” is, they are always games, it’s only how complicated you wanna know.

    I totally agree with you “choices people make on political reality show will influence our (AND NOT ONLY) lives”. But “credit to people’s intelligence” exist only when there is a larger group of people who dare to think broader, instead of only their lives , relying only on the few TV stations ran by businessmen making most money out of it.

  7. Dima Says:

    Thank you Michelle! But how do you decide who is the “better one among the candidates”? Isn’t this something you learn from the media?

  8. Michelle Says:

    hmhm, yes, ironically, it is.

    But, it may be easier in my domain, they may not share same political view, very easy to differentiate and to eliminate those I didn’t like, e.g. those oppose to whatever policies being proposed, those only speak for only certain group (e.g. entrepreneurs, welfarist) and ignore the reality. Then, I get the better one.

    I guess it similar to what you just did, you got your favorite candidate by eliminateing those dance polictical dance. or may be…. credits should be given to those who have good advisers who manage to differentiate the candidate from others to whichever group of people they targetted.

  9. Kira Says:

    According to my studies… during primaries, the candidates are supposed to be more extreme because they are trying to target primary voters.. who are more polarized than average voters.
    I must admit I have not watched the debates lately, so I’m not really sure if that is what is happening at this time.

    Also, “Shouldn’t more credit be given to people’s intelligence?”.
    I have read that people were turned off by Al Gore in the 2000 election because of his intelligence. People have literally said that they voted for Bush because he seemed like the kind of guy that they could invite to their backyard barbeque. Now, isn’t that something. Some people would rather have their president be their buddy than their leader. Disgusting. Scary enough, Bush only seems stupid. He is a manipulative son of a gun. Have any of you heard about the exceptions he has used in his signing statements? A reporter from the Boston Globe (i think that was the newspaper) wrote about it and has won a Pulitzer prize. Bush has gone as far excluding himself from the torture ban act! If I wanted a dictator, I would have moved to Cuba, not America.

    Also on the topic of IQ. I think any person, who blindly follows what some or THE book tells them to follow will be close minded and hence have a lower IQ.

    Does it bother anyone that instead of doing their senatorial duties, these people are out campaigning for president?!?!

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