Survivor: Washington

Published: November 2, 2011

By Jim Lichtman
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I don’t know about you, but I’m burned out on all the Republican debates…. and we haven’t even hit the primaries yet!

The first debate was held September 7 in Simi Valley, California. Debate two happened less than a week later in Miami, Florida. Ten days later, number three took place in Orlando. The fourth, October 11 in Hanover, New Hampshire; and seven days later, the fifth debate took place, where else but, Las Vegas Nevada.

Normally I like debates, prefer them to commercials or network interview sound bites. But with seven candidates (can you name all seven?*) participating there’s no such thing as normal in the current Republican cycle. After 5 debates with 7 candidates, the Republicans have become just another reality show with all of us tuning in to see who gets voted off the island next.

A conversation with cultural analyst Jamie O’Boyle of The Center for Cultural Studies and Analysis in Philadelphia led to sharing his perspective.

“There’s a reason that the Republican debates seem more like a Reality Show than a political debate,” O’Boyle says, “the rules are being set by the candidates that are following the reality show business model rather than the political model.

“Reality show contestants understand their role – you don’t have to be liked, but you do have to be noticed. By picking fights, screaming, immediately attacking anyone who might take the camera off you, and otherwise acting like the loose cannon on the show, you become a ‘celebrity.’ You gain a following, write a book and go on a book tour, show up at events, and along the way, if you have any sense, you can make a lot of money before your star fades and your fans moves on to the next person.

“Sarah Palin did this, but she actually believed – at least in the beginning – that she had a chance of winning the vice-presidential slot. The person who proved the model worked for non-politicians was Donald Trump, who owns and produces reality shows. He consciously applied the reality show business model to politics. He cut out the middlemen, the Limbaughs, Becks, and Coulters who made the outrageous comments the politicians could piggy-back on without being outrageous themselves. Trump made them redundant.

“The business model works for the candidate so long as the candidate doesn’t care about actually being elected. They’re after followers. They’re not trying to influence the American majority they would need to be elected; they’re trying to build a relatively small, but loyal fan base for the money and power they generate.

“This puts the people whose goal is to be their party’s candidate at a serious disadvantage. They can’t compete in the business model climate without adopting the model themselves. They have to make their own outrageous claims themselves just to keep up. So Ron Paul says the government was responsible for triggering the 9/11 attacks, Rick Santorum claims that birth control is responsible for the moral decline of America, Rick Perry says he’s not sure if Barak Obama was born in this country,”

And Michele Bachmann says, “I’ll tell you who has an illegal alien problem: President Obama. It’s his uncle and his aunt who are illegal aliens.”

But it was ‘ol reliable, Newt Gingrich who grabbed the “Immunity Idol” in the last debate when he said an atheist has no business in the White House. “Does faith matter? Absolutely,” Gingrich said. “How can you have judgment if you have no faith? How can I trust you with power if you don’t pray?” He continued, “the notion that you are endowed by your creator sets a certain boundary of what we mean by America.” Gingrich said that Americans should value religion first, above morality and knowledge.

“Which candidates are genuine and which are in it for the money and power?” O’Boyle asks. “Under the business model it’s difficult to tell. That’s the most American thing about the reality show. Anyone can play.”
* Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.



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