Since at least the turn of the 21st Century it's been a time-honored tradition to bring in the clowns and have some fun with the quest for the highest job in the nation. You would think the duties and obligations of the presidency of the United States would cause most people to turn and run and keep on running, but every four years the most unlikely characters come out of the woodwork, shouting, "Hey, I could be president! Why not? How hard could it be?"
It's like the first weeks of every new season of "American Idol". Singers? You want singers? Be patient, we'll get to that. First we need to haul out the phonies and the almost-singers and pretend they're really auditioning because it's not just about finding the best singer in America, it's about the show, the whole show, and nothing but the show.
I would say the Republicans have outdone themselves this cycle, but I'm still quivering (could have been laughter; could have been dread) over the potential 2012 lineup: Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Ron Paul, Thaddeus McCotter. etc.--remember?
Early on, Michelle Bachmann and Ron Paul won the Iowa straw poll, but not before some high hilarity at an Iowa fairground, where blow-up slides, corn-dog obscenities, and fights over the size of their tents took center stage.
Earlier still, pizza guy Herman Cain ran as a non-politician who was pretty sure there was a lot wrong with the government. His qualifications for the presidency included a vast knowledge of pizza ingredients, a build-up of a chain of pizzerias, and an economic plan that included the numbers "999"--a plan so brilliantly obtuse it shot him to number one in the polls for what seemed like a really long time for a pizza guy wanting to be president. (Sort of like Sanjaya on American Idol. Some things are beyond understanding.)
The Democrats haven't been immune to the silly season, either. In January, 2012, just before the New Hampshire primaries, C-Span broadcast The Great Debate of the Lesser-Knowns, a two-hour show where both Republican and Democratic wannabees had a chance to present their credentials and give reasons why America should vote for them. Among them was a wizard named "Vermin", a guy who visited all 1712 US counties and found that "people aren't happy", and a guy who had been in Real Estate but was now out of a job so he figured what the hell? (It may have been the most fun I've ever had writing a blog.)
So here it is, 2015, less than a year away from our next presidential election and the silly season is upon us. The Republicans, as usual, are outshining the Democrats, who, to be fair, only have three candidates in the running, all bona fide politicians. They're way too boring for the pundits, who, if they were honest, would admit what they really want is a burlesque show. Show us some skin! We want pratfalls! Where are the comics?
Contrast the Democrats with the Republicans who, as of this writing, have 10 candidates running in the main, three or four relegated to the debate night kid's table, and several, including Lindsey Graham--a real, honest-to-goodness long-time politician--on the outside looking in.
Knowing they have nothing to offer their followers, the GOP keeps coming up with irrelevant attention-getters, hoping nobody will notice. Donald Trump is a snarly, puffed-up businessman hawking his celebrity in place of actual policy. Ben Carson is a neurosurgeon whose utterances conjure up Peter Sellers as Chance the gardener in "Being There". Day after day, they're polling as the front-runners. Neither of them has any political experience--an obvious asset for a party hoping for another chance to stop the damn governing already!
So last week the two Republican front-runners made political news again. Ben Carson, because some of his words ended up forming actual sentences, was forced to hold a news conference defending his veracity. He was accused of lying about stabbing a friend and in order to maintain some semblance of credibility (because he's running for PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES), he had to insist that he was telling the truth. Oh, yes I did! I did stab him! I swear!
And Donald Trump managed for yet another week to keep himself at the top of the pundit dance cards. (Thus never having to spend a dime of his own money promoting his candidacy.) Much to the delight of the press, he took a break from the hard work of pretending to be a politician to become the first active presidential candidate ever to host NBC's "Saturday Night Live". He was able to do this even after NBC had kinda sorta fired him from his own show, "The Apprentice" and showed at least outward signs of not being pleased when he insulted Mexicans and dissed Univision, the Hispanic network that refused to air Trump's own personal beauty contest.
The Democrats made it to the news cycle last week, too, for a few brief moments. On Friday, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow hosted the "First in the South" Democratic Forum in South Carolina. The two-hour program gave the top three candidates, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O'Malley, a chance to answer questions without interruptions or attempts to one-up each other. They even had some fun--Bernie laughed out loud--but there was no doubt they are serious applicants for the job--repeat, the job--of President of the United States.
I don't see that yet in either Donald Trump or Ben Carson. Trump is busy building his brand, so to him Situation Room angst is for losers. And Carson is--I don't know--selling a book?
Meanwhile, there are real Republican politicians like Lindsey Graham, and even Jeb Bush, who don't stand a chance against this need by the media to keep politics so highly entertaining there's no danger of the dreaded channel-surfing.
(Image credit: Pete Souza/Wikimedia Commons)
Someday soon we're going to have to stop looking for the fun part of politics and start cramming for the hard stuff. We're going to have to be the grown-ups. We don't let children vote for a reason. It's because they're not equipped to read, to study, to analyze, to decide. We are. They don't understand the difference between showmanship and statesmanship. We do. They feel no sense of obligation toward establishing a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. As the grown-ups in control, we do and we must.