In 1997, one of our great political satires, Wag the Dog, hit theaters. In it, a political fixer (Robert De Niro) hires a Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) to stage a fake war to get his guy elected president. De Niro tells Hoffman that politics, elections and even war are really just show business.
That same year, Survivor debuted on Swedish TV. I only point that out because if Wag the Dog had been made 10 years later, after Survivor and its imitators remade the pop culture landscape, De Niro would have been more specific: Politics, elections and even war are really just reality TV.
Thus my first observation of the 2012 presidential election: It's a reality show. How is it not? Sarah Palin and Donald Trump are already actual reality TV stars. Peppered with debates and primaries, swift-boating and flip-flops, it’ll be a year-long series — first to see who wins the GOP nomination, then to see if they can unseat Obama. Each competitor will have a huge budget for TV ads.
Which leads to another ante-upper for 2012: no rules. That’s right, thanks to recent court decisions, money will flow freely into TV ads designed to confuse and manipulate. Perfect for reality TV, not so much for functioning democracy.
Pay attention early in the season for the Civil War reenactment story arc. Yep, 150 years after the real thing began, we should see the various factions of the Republican Party fight it out. Will the businessfirst types get Mitt Romney? Will the Tea Partiers get Ron Paul? Will the evangelicals get Rick Santorum? Will the FOX Newsers get Michele Bachmann? Reality TV loves it when the teammates bicker — and it’s already started, as Newt Gingrich’s nasty reception from his own party this week proves.
There will be tons of drama, as the stakes of this struggle are really high — through all the TV ads and infighting, the GOP needs to keep its head and choose wisely. America needs two safe and sane parties to effectively solve our problems. If the Republicans pick a nominee who is too far out, it could all end in crushing defeat and a political setback that might last a generation.
Finally, don’t be surprised if there’s some kind of shocking twist — reality TV thrives on the unexpected. And with such a tepid bunch of candidates, the stage is set for a new competitor — even somebody who has officially declined to run so far. Jeb Bush? Scott Brown? Michael Bloomberg? Pat Sajak? If they time their entrance just right, and nail the show business, they might just outwit, outplay and outlast everybody.
Ted S. McGregor Jr. is the Editor and Publisher of The Inlander.