More people vote for American Idol than cast ballots in the last U.S. presidential election. And now we're facing a mind-numbing battalion of pontificating candidates standing behind podiums in their sincere navy suits and red power ties. More than 15 months of campaign activities, commercials and mud-slinging mailers sprawl ominously in front of us like a psychotic nightmare.
Other countries impose strict limits on campaign lengths and tactics. Japanese candidates are allowed one campaign car, a small amount of posters and other printed materials, and a limited number of government-financed commercials or television appearances for a campaign lasting only 12 days. In Canada, the longest national election campaign was 74 days in 1926; the 2006 campaign was 55 days.
But that would never fly in the United States. For one thing, too much money is generated by the three-ring circus that is our presidential election process. Endless speculation about candidates jockeying for position and reports on rampant rumors easily fill empty airtime for news shows, providing employment for long-winded pundits. And a lot of people and corporations make big bucks from slick television commercials and glossy bulk-mail materials. They're not going to give up that golden goose--unless they're given an equally lucrative substitute.
It should be considered cruel and inhumane to hold televised presidential debates more than a year before the election and expect anyone except political junkies and masochists to pay attention--particularly since our collective attention span seems to be getting shorter and shorter.
So let's go with the flow, follow the trend and turn the presidential campaign into a reality TV show.
This is the only logical answer. Americans love to watch, root for and jeer the competitors on American Idol, Survivor or any of the other multitude of shows that show real people doing really stupid things. So let's give the people what they want. Gather all the hopeful candidates in one location. Let the cameras run 24/7 and then condense hours of action (or inaction) into an entertaining one-hour presentation.
A lot more people will watch than ever tune into the staged debates. And we'll learn so much more.
What does each candidate look like in the morning? Late at night? Hung over? Who hits the booze too hard, and who can't go a few weeks without sneaking bimbos into the would-be president's crib? Do the Bible-thumping conservatives actually read the Good Book and pray, or is that all window dressing?
We'll get a lot more accurate answers from the 24/7 all-seeing cameras than we ever did from meticulously organized debates.
Let's take a page from Fear Factor and see who gags at eating a bit of raw crow. Follow the America's Next Top Model format and put the candidates through their fashion paces, finding out who has what it takes to always look good under pressure. Use the Apprentice approach to determine which potential president can raise the most money--and watch exactly how they do it, instead of letting such deals be made privately. Set up team projects to see if they can work well with others. Offer immunity challenges, and find out just how tenacious they really are.
It would be a lot more fun and informative to watch Presidential Survivor instead of the traditional staged debates, and a lot less time-consuming than having to read in-depth articles or listen to charges and countercharges, rumors and counter-rumors on the news programs.
Being a participant in this reality show couldn't be any worse than the current situation where candidates' lives are thrust under a spotlight and if no flaws are found, then opponents manufacture some.
We could still have an election. The show would simply weed out potential candidates, leaving us with two, three or even four to choose from at the ballot box. This might make alternative political parties more viable, giving us more choices. And everything could be timed so there's only a certain amount of campaigning time left between the final episode and election day.
There would still be television commercials, but they would be aimed at touting the program, not supporting or bashing a particular candidate. Think of all the embarrassing moments and humorous gaffes that could be captured by the cameras and flashed onscreen over and over as teasers for an upcoming episode.
Plus, think how much corporations would pay for commercial airtime during the show. We'd all watch; the advertisers would pay the bills. It would be true campaign-finance reform.
Presidential Survivor could well be a uniquely American election solution. It's exactly what we deserve.
The Byrne Report returns Aug. 1.