Wednesday, June 20, 2007

US Presidential Election or American Idol?

Hillary Clinton is running a spoof of the Sopranos finale on her campaign website (if you can't bring yourself to go there, you can also find it by searching YouTube) to announce her new theme song. It's getting lots of press coverage, and for that reason it can certainly be judged a successful tactic, but it's also symbolic of the depths to which our political process has sunk.

I personally think we should discard with the pretense of democratic elections and determine our Chief Executive in the same way fans vote for their dreamiest American Idol contestants: "Text the name of your favorite candidate to 1-800-USA-VOTE after these important messages from our corporate sponsors."

I'll give Ms. Clinton some style points for selecting the popular and stylistic HBO series as source material for her web ad, but the sad truth is she probably had very little to do with that decision or the execution of the piece. There is a large staff whose responsibility it is to handle such matters now. The candidates have been reduced to performers — wait for makeup and cue the teleprompter — and that fits our society well. The only public discourse that takes place anywhere these days is the water-cooler banter over the previous evening's television viewing.

American political campaigns are no longer about ideas or policy; they're about media packaging and the slickest spin. Americans want to be entertained, they don't want to be informed. When we accept information, we're obligated to act on it responsibly, and that's too risky and involving an exercise for most. It's much easier to idly complain about the state of things, switch on the TV, and poke fun at the silly vocalists.

Speaking of which, this whole process begs the question: Who the heck voted for Celine Dion? I know that American Idol enthusiasts are always theorizing about conspiracies to sabotage the program by selecting the worst possible contestant. I have to say, it's tempting to imagine a group of Hillary haters getting together to vote up the worst song choice. Of course, Hillary's folks are the ones who offered the schmaltzy song You and I as an option.

I do have some experience managing a political campaign, and I'll gladly give out some free advice to the presidential candidates still looking for an appropriate anthem: Check out Tim Fite's Away From The Snakes. There is one caveat — my candidate didn't actually win.
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