and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
August 2004 #1

Reality TV may present solution
to nationís presidential woes
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, August 5, 2004

August 1, 2004. The Legislature has begun its five month vacation, the Democrat Convention is over, the Republican Convention a month away Ė time to summer!

Mercury will be retrograde for most of the month: in my free time, I shall do the "re" things: relax, rejuvenate, renew. For three weeks this political junkie is on the wagon.

After work Iíll retire to my hammock with a non-political novel. After dark, Iíll re-watch some favorite old movies: Saturday Night Fever, The Commitments, The Tao of Steve. And some really hot night, A Lion in Winter, the original of course with Katherine Hepburn.

Wait a minute Ė whatís this new reality TV show on Showtime tonight? American Candidate? Candidate for what? Iíll just watch it once, just to satisfy my curiosity...

August 2. Iím hooked. How many days til next Sunday? For the next nine weeks, do not call me Sunday night between 9 and 10.

In case you missed it: "The American Candidate" is "Survivor" for political junkies. Ten American citizens filled out applications and made videos from which they were chosen to compete for the American presidency. I know, I know.... but when you think about it, this makes as much sense as the way itís really done.

The series answers the question we all sometimes ask: what if money were not a major determinant in the selection of our leaders? Because though they must hold rallies, campaign around the country, and debate the issues, the TV variety candidates donít have to raise money. The TV series pays, equally, for it all. And its producers made sure there was a diverse group of candidates: men and women, gay and straight, older and younger, black, white and mixed. More important in this context, of varied ideology: two Republicans, three Democrats, two Independents, two Libertarians, and one Green Party animal rights activist.

Unfair! you Republicans cry. Never mind. Each week, one candidate is voted off the ballot, and last Sunday, the first one to go was Democrat Chrissy Gephardt, the daughter of recent real candidate Dick Gephardt. That was what made it so delightful.

Nothing against Chrissy, a liberal lesbian with that healthy midwestern look, but I probably wasnít the only cynic watching the show who thought it was rigged when she was chosen from all the varied applicants. The first trial was to organize a rally, and of course she called Daddy, used his list of contacts, and got the immediate endorsement of Patrick Kennedy. To no avail. Hers was one of the two lowest-attended announcement functions, so the rules required that the other eight candidates vote for only one of them to stay.

This is where it got interesting. Keith Boynton, the young gay black man, had to choose between the one other candidate who might take young gay votes from him later when viewers vote online, and someone who was less of a threat. Survivorís Richard Hatch he wasnít; he voted for Chrissy, with whom he agreed more on issues. Put a check for integrity after his name.

After the votes, Chrissy and a Republican, Jim Stork, were tied. So the candidate who got the most people to attend his announcement rally was allowed to make the final decision. Republican Park Gillespie could have chosen Chrissy, who was less competition for him than Jim; but because he disagreed strongly with her statement in favor of partial-birth abortion, he followed his conscience and... Chrissy was gone.

Can you imagine? Integrity. Issues. Conscience. What kind of political campaign is this?!

Next week the remaining nine candidates go to New Hampshire, and viewers from that state will choose their favorite. The two lowest vote getters will debate for a chance to remain for the next challenge. In the end, viewers from all over America will choose the winner, the pretend next President of the United States.

There is another ongoing campaign between pretend Presidents: West Wingís Jeb Bartlett and 24's David Palmer. Liberals must have a hard time with this one, Bartlett being one of them, but Palmer being the first black president. I was very enthusiastic about the classy, honorable Palmer and kept calling to the TV screen, "no David!" every time he was urged by his campaign manager to do something wrong; he listened to me until this past season, when he participated in a cover-up. Ahhh, David!

Maybe Iíll try to catch up with the John Clancy novels this summer, and see how Jack Ryan is doing as president. Or, with Mercury retrograde, maybe I should re-read the Alan Drury series about Washington D.C. during the Cold War; I loved seeing Harley Hudson grow into the job. Lately Iíve been thinking about another Drury President, Ted Jason, who having no real principles goes into shock when faced with a national defense crisis. But now Iím junketing back into the real presidential campaign.

Heaven help me, Iím addicted to democracy, real or imagined. I can hardly wait to vote on Showtime, and again on November second.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence Journal and other newspapers.