Unreality TV


Apparently, John McCain won’t let Sarah Palin out of his sight. They’re together everywhere you look. That short leash will make campaigning in all the key states difficult.

But she’s got to be trained to talk to the press. I wonder what Charles Gibson had to promise to get that first interview. World leaders like Putin won’t lose much sleep over the prospect of negotiating with someone who’s afraid to meet the press.

On the night of Palin’s acceptance speech, the Republican strategy became clear. When the former beauty contestant, who shoots moose and advocates hunting wolves from helicopters and airplanes, marched out the fisherman-union steelworker husband with the DUI, the baby with disabilities, the unwed, teenage daughter and the kid who knocked her up, she became the lead in our highest-rated reality show.

With less than two months until the election, how were the rich, bland Republicans going to redirect the imagination of voters from Obama’s fresh face and inspiring rhetoric, and from the hard-charging, street-fighting, foreign-policy expertise of Joe Biden? The answer: Create a game show in which the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

You nominate a youngish woman with a story that could have won a washing machine on Queen for a Day back in the 1950s. Then you play To Tell the Truth, trying to find out who she is and discovering she is less prepared for governing than panelist Kitty Carlisle. Do the voters have time to wait for the smoke screen to lift so they can figure out what Palin stands for? What does it mean that the second woman (and first Republican) VP nominee opposes reproductive rights, disdains the science of global warming and evolution, and believes Alaska is the launching pad for the Rapture? (No room for Joe Lieberman on that rocket ship to Glory.)

What does that say about our politics? The cynicism of McCain’s pick-the future of this country and the security of the world be damned for an election trick-and the lies it is founded on appeal directly to what Hannah Arendt (in The Origins of Totalitarianism) called the “explosion [of] categories of thought and standards of judgment.” The Republican candidates are counting on this country’s strong streak of know-nothingism. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Richard Hofstadter called it “the disdain for refinements in ideas, the subordination of men of ideas to men [this was 1964] of emotional power or manipulative skill,” tying blessed ignorance directly to this country’s evangelical roots.

Joe McCarthy depended on it. Reagan thrived on it. Bumbling W won two elections by portraying thinkers like Gore and Kerry as out of touch. It’s a Karl Rovian game. The troops of distortion are massed in their bunkers, ready to saturate our consciousness with sound bites about lipstick on a pig or sex ed in kindergarten. Every day a new distraction from the real issues. Are we going to judge the self-styled hockey mom on her recommendations for solving the home mortgage crisis or on her willingness to skydive onto the infield of a NASCAR race with George H.W. Bush strapped to her chest?

With less than two months left, will Tom Brokaw and Charles Gibson call her out for not telling us what she really thinks about the economy or the war? How long will the mainstream press let McCain hide behind the skirts of this novelty act? Do we need Jerry Springer to make them tell us what they really stand for?

-Geoff Rips