Whose Reality Show is This?

“This is the age of contrivance. The artificial has become so commonplace that the natural begins to seem contrived.” — Daniel J. Boorstin, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America

If the Republican candidates were students in a communications and public speaking course their midterm evaluations—based on their classroom performances—might look something like this . . . 

Sarah Palin — Charming and even flirtatious when she wants to be, but can turn vicious in a heartbeat. Late with her assignments, doesn’t seem to prepare, spurns advice. A dominant figure in any group, she tends to blame others for her mistakes. Still waiting for her to turn in her thesis statement. 

Rick Perry — Another student who waits till the last minute to prepare and then tries to impress by his bluff and bluster. That works for awhile but his lack of preparation quickly comes to light when questioned on his positions. Proud of being a doer rather than a thinker—obviously believes you can’t be both at the same time. 

Michele Bachman — Reacts rather than responds. Talks faster than she thinks. Relays second-hand information picked up from headlines. Sincere, upbeat, dazzling smile, too impatient to study. Does C work because she is constantly distracted. Would rather text than study. 

Herman Cain — Gregarious, ambitious, loves attention, overconfident. Used to getting what he wants, thus cannot handle even the slightest criticism. Comes up with clever phrasing but with little substance to ground it on. Should change his major to advertising or marketing. 

Ron Paul — One of the older students, keeps to himself, something of a loner. Firmly rooted in 19th century cultural values. In a group he sees himself as a spoiler rather than a tie-breaker. Uses every speech to advocate for American isolationism, the gold standard, or against taxes. Pre-med major; says he has no time for gen ed courses like Public Speaking.                                                                 

Newt Gingrich — Not afraid to speak a dissenting viewpoint, but was disastrous as a group leader. Seems to enjoy conflict for its own sake or as a way to gain an edge on someone else. Can be perceptive on certain issues but lets his need for power overrule his better judgment. Alienates the other students who think he’s arrogant. 

Rick Santorum — Knows how to articulate the free-floating fears of his contemporaries. Speaks with certainty on issues, but cannot understand people not like him. Sincere, has deep convictions, regards compromise on certain issues as moral betrayal. His inability to imagine other ways of perceiving the world hampers his ability to lead diverse groups. 

Jon Huntsman — Thoughtful, reflective, quiet, sits in the back of the classroom but pays attention. Often stays after class to discuss something or ask a question. In class discussions he often has the last word because he does not try to shout down the others. Will give his viewpoint if asked, but won’t compete with Gingrich or Santorum for air time. 

Mitt Romney — Class president, comfortable with money and power, looks “presidential.” Speeches are carefully outlined, delivery is standard, phrasing is predictable as are his positions. Ambitious, self-assured, but lacks depth. Out of his element when classroom discussions focus on issues of justice, poverty, or the increasing gap between the very rich and the poor. Envied but not particularly liked.

Of course, any person is more than what you see. But the hidden parts—you might call them ‘character’—are rarely seen in a public figure for two reasons: first, television transmits images, not ideals, and secondly, candidates play roles that they then try to live up to. 

It is not farfetched to imagine that if a candidate were to listen closely to a wide variety of Americans and then to honestly and clearly express his or her personal convictions in response, that such a candidate would be applauded in the media for a fine performance. It would not be at all clear that anyone had actually listened to what was said. 

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