Politics as Reality TV

A new, exciting way to think about the world!

The Democratic Party is boring. And its women are either old or unattractive.
This is not a superficial problem in a country that has embraced superficiality. The Republicans, left for dead, are on the verge of taking back power because they of what they learned from Sarah Palin in 2008: that the values Americans care about are not family, but entertainment. Sure, it’s the party of no; it’s also the party of fun. Remember when the GOP was trying to counter Obama with its skinny-necked “serious” candidates, like Bobby Jindal and Tim Pawlenty? It was mocked for its trouble. Now the Republican Party has not so much remade itself as remarketed itself, its familiar cast of corporate shills learning to speak the language of populist outrage from the Tea Party, and its Tea Partiers rallying behind women attractive enough to allow them to forget their own grotesqueries.
Christine O’Donnell, like Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann and Nikki Haley before her, might not be the most beautiful woman in the world, but she has enough sex appeal for a turn on Dancing with the Stars, or for a contract with the Fox News mothership, or for a few contentious seasons on the Real Housewives of the Republican Party, if such a show ever existed, and if O’Donnell ever married or raised a family. The reality-television baseline is becoming the standard of beauty in this country: If you can say really crazy things or lead a really crazy life and become a star, well, then you must be beautiful. The Republicans have cornered the market on beauty because they’ve cornered the market on crazy, and if they’ve failed to produce a “candidate” in Delaware, they’ve succeeded in producing a star, and have made all the tut-tutting pundits look as behind the times as the newspapers they serve. Wherever populism reared its head, there used to be sweaty men; now — in country music, at Fox, and in crossover “Islamaphobe” bloggers who get their picture pasted on the Sunday Times — there are at least semi-sexy women.
The Democrats didn’t think they had to worry about any of this. They weren’t looking for stars because they had the biggest star in the world as their president. He didn’t have a populist bone in his body, but he was a deeply thoughtful man and a galvanic speaker both, and he promised to transcend the bone-grind of American politics. With his promise of one-man racial reconciliation, he was transfixing, but the independents who were transfixed by him needed to keep being transfixed, and on this, he couldn’t deliver. The American public turned against Obama not when it found out he was radical, or wish-washy, or power-mad, or timid, or what have you; it turned against him when he stopped being entertaining. It turned against him when it found out his real secret — that under his professorial mien he was, well, a professor. Outside the enforced electricity of a national electoral referendum, he was dutiful, and he was dull.

Politics as Reality TV