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September 07, 2007

A Superior Superficiality

In a perfect world, we'd all evaluate candidates based on their health care plans and performance in The Social Policy Thunderdome, wherein a panel of leftwing bloggers would pepper politicians with substantial questions about weighty public issues, and those who proved incapable of the task would gracefully accept their inadequacy and drop out. Barring that, Matt's right to say that "things like appearances on Oprah's show are in some ways an improvement over the alternative...they're at least being swayed by the candidate's actual charisma or lack thereof (I, for instance, saw Hillary Clinton on Ellen last week and found her charming) whereas the main alternative isn't careful evaluation of the issues, but instead a seemingly arbitrary media filter wherein a prickly egomaniacal recovering alcoholic becomes the kind of guy you'd like to get a beer with."

That said, I'm still willing to help promote the Thunderdome concept.

September 7, 2007 | Permalink


[Furiously tries to think of witty remark involving chainsaws and Tina Turner, comes up empty]

Posted by: Captain Goto | Sep 7, 2007 5:08:45 PM

Oh please, please, please. Can I be on the Natural Resources and Agriculture panel that questions the candidates?

Posted by: Megan | Sep 7, 2007 5:14:50 PM

"Break the deal, face the wheel!"

Posted by: Adrock | Sep 7, 2007 5:19:47 PM

the candidate's actual charisma

Bloody hell. Reagan had charisma, and we're still paying for it. Give me a wonky-but-nerd President any day, like even Carter, who may not have done much good (though he gets no credit for much good he actually did and tried to do), but who at least didn't sanction death squads, invade small countries, and trade arms for hostages.

Posted by: joel hanes | Sep 7, 2007 5:45:15 PM

Idiocracy is running on cable these days. It's the must watch political movie of the year, and highly relevant to this topic.

Posted by: Petey | Sep 7, 2007 6:37:07 PM

Just to go one step further than joel - Bloody Hell; if you think that what you're getting in carefully managed appearances on talk shows like Oprah and Leno constitutes anything "real," you're high. Candidates pick those forums because they know what they're getting: generally flattering comments (remember, the notion that "you're fascinating" gets applied to Hillary Clinton, George Clooney and Suzanne Somers equally), softball question ("you know, I don't know all that much about the issues, what will we do about health care?"), and mostly confirmation that they are, in fact, celebrities.

I hate to burst anyone's bubble who thinks, based on the Tonight Show, that Angelina Jolie is just a friendly Mom of 4 just like the rest of us... she's not. The people who regularly traverse those stages are actors, and what they are doing is performing. So are the candidates. It's true: I think Hillary Clinton is a nice lady based on what I saw of her on Letterman. Thank goodness I have more than that to go on... if only I wasn't quite so certain that "nice lady" and time spent on Oprah might be the only criteria many people use when going to the polls.

Posted by: weboy | Sep 7, 2007 9:40:48 PM

I not so sure you are correct, Ezra. Democrats seem to be particularly comfortable with the legislative branch and uncomfortable with the executive. But I don't think the most important thing for a president is laws he or she wants to pass. In particular, I don't think the details matter much at all, as it is the other branch of government that will actually put all the details together, anyway.

Ultimately, the question is which potential president will leave the country in the best shape in four years. Some of that is policy wonk stuff, but most is not.

Posted by: Mark | Sep 8, 2007 3:29:22 AM


of course the talk show appearances are scripted w/the performer/candidate presenting only what he wants...I think the point of the original post is that the superficial caricatures you get from the major media outlets are even worse because they feign depth and well-roundedness.

Posted by: jinbaltimore | Sep 8, 2007 5:49:52 AM

(As he contemplates the surreality of doing in public what has been done for years in private)

J in Baltimore (if that's really your name):

Yes, but... I've seen too much of this "finally we're seeing the real side of [name of candidate] with his/her appearance on Oprah/Leno/Letterman" etc... I think Washington types are so used to the status quo presentations in the "serious" press that they're falling for the celebrity press because they don't see how similarly artificial it is; yes, the MSM does a bad job of discussing policy. But it's not like Oprah does that better, and the idea that somehow the presentation of a candidate on Oprah is an improvement over the News Department of Time and News week is just... well, odd. That "prickly egomaniacal recovering alcoholic [who] becomes the kind of guy you'd like to get a beer with" looks even better on Larry King than he does on World News Tonight. How is that an improvement?

Posted by: weboy | Sep 8, 2007 3:38:23 PM

If he looks better to whom, wb?

I'm a person who likes a beer(this surprises you, I know) without a president attached, thank you. And I have to believe that at least some of us know that what's presented on these shows isn't "real" (see Tom Cruise and Oprah). I think in terms of politicians, it is instructional to see the kind of "show" they're trying to put on.

Other than the debates, the alternative seems to be relying solely on 3rd-party pundits, who have their own agenda.

Posted by: jinbaltimore | Sep 8, 2007 4:52:15 PM

I think this is yet more proof that Ezra needs his own TV show. I think "Social Policy Thunderdome" would give Glenn Beck a run for his money in the prime time slot.

Posted by: Frank Bruno | Sep 11, 2007 12:54:35 PM

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