The American President Show
It's close! It's so close! Romney's ahead! No, Obama's ahead! Oh, here comes Romney again! It's so exciting, I can't stand it.
The sporting style of American mainstream media coverage of political "races" may be fun for some people. But it's also irresponsibly dumb because of the how-obvious-does-it-have-to-be difference between elections and horse races.
In a real horse race, you watch the competitors do only what they were ever meant to do-- just run. When the race is over, the bettors collect their winnings and everyone goes home.
But political races are only preliminary events to what the winners are really elected to do-- govern , their primary purpose. In these races you are not watching the competitors do what you really want them to do (again, govern). You are just listening to them vaguely promise what they will try to do if and after they win.
Imagine an "American Idol" show where instead of actually performing, the contestants took turns promising the audience to sing and dance really well if and after they win. (And the celebrity judges just speculated on the home audience's vote). Would you watch that show? Well, we're all watching that show right now, except it's called "American President." And it's just plain civically nutritionless sensationalism.
I'd like to see another kind of election show. It would look beyond nail-biting, ratings grabbing, finish-line scenarios and, instead, objectively and responsibly assess the realistic consequences of the political platforms presented by the most articulate candidates.
It wouldn't burn advertising dollars hyperactively guessing at how voters would, should or could infer from candidate "A"'s downward glances during a debate or candidate "B"'s water sipping habits. It would tell us if "A"'s realistically understands the economy, and if "B" gets the truth on the ground in Middle East. It wouldn't feature sound-bite echoing pundits iterating buzz words like "etch-a-sketch," "dog whistle," "socialist," "makers," "takers," "right-wing" or "left-wing." It would have a team of unaligned, Nobel-prize level bean counters and professional State Department wonks rigorously hashing out nightly the credibility of the candidates' proposals.
In other words, I want a show that would give us, not useless, racy, poll projections but rather information to help us decide which candidates' agendas will best serve our civic needs after the balloons drop on election day.
Today's "American President" show style coverage only benefits those few who actually bet money on the election and can collect their winnings right after the vote. For the vast majority of us non-bettors watching the thrilling "down-to-the-wire" coverage in the mainstream media, we won't really know if we are winners or losers for years to come-- no matter who moves into The White House.
( A version of this article appeared in Our Town Downtown, February 9, 2012.)