Have you attended a live sporting event lately? A pro event is sort of like a show where competition occasionally breaks out. I have a friend that works for a professional sports team, and his job places him in charge of “game presentation.” That means he is in charge of everything that happens during the event that is not the competition itself. Think about that for a minute – there is a staff of a pro sports team that does stuff not related to the competition.
The events of this past weekend illustrate that a presidential election is not that different – particularly in the early primary stages. But there is no “game presentation,” so the same thing is accomplished by faux competitors.
That is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, some faux competitors are there to line their pockets with the book deals and higher speaking fees that accompany having “former presidential candidate” before or after your name. But there are also many faux competitors that put in the effort to make sure that an issue or issue set is represented in the campaign. And if they are good enough at it, at the convention and in the platform.
Unfortunately, as Paul Mirengoff points out the presence of faux competitors can make the whole thing look more like professional wrestling than serious competition. Especially when a more serious candidate makes a gaffe that makes them look more like a faux competitor than the faux competitors.
But why is it we Republicans have to live with this far more than the other side? The answer is simple and lies with the issue based faux competitors. They have to run to draw attention to their issue set because it is the only way they can get the media to pay attention at all. If you’re a leftie with a pet peeve, you can send a press release to the networks and end up on GMA the next day. Not so much with the right-leaning.
But there are two problems with this system that really trouble me. For one thing the media tend to focus on the pocket-liners, because they make the Republicans just look goofy. It is like we hand them their own straw men to knock down. Hopefully the changes in the primary system that have been and are being enacted will allow us to overcome this, but the coverage of events of the past weekend make me worry that they will not.
Secondly there are always just enough of us that take these pocket-liners seriously that a) they start to take themselves too seriously, b) it fuels the media’s straw man illusion, and c) if it gets bad enough they can “spoil” the outcome of the primary – throwing it to a weaker general election candidate than we might otherwise have enjoyed.
This has arisen because something very serious has happened in America. We have come to believe that we are all experts. When I was a kid and the primaries rolled around, my dad had a few friends in powerful political places that he would call and ask them, more or less, how to vote. He knew he was no expert, so he got in touch with those that were and asked and listened. But we don’t do that anymore, between the rampant narcissism of our age and the fact that we think enormous amounts of media actually informs us, we think we can decide without consultation of any experts. And the pocket-liners get that much richer.
And I have to blame Evangelicalism for a lot of this. We have now taught everybody that they are just as much a biblical scholar and pastor as the guy that stands in the pulpit every Sunday. Or worse that no expertise is not required to read the Bible. “I don’t have to listen to anybody tell me what the Bible says, I can read it for myself.” Yeah, so can the average third grader, does that mean they understand it? Which is why so many of the faux candidates seem to be of the overtly Evangelical variety – they can always count on picking up some followers because we always seem to think we are smarter than the experts.
A religious worldview is mandatory for a great president, but that is a different thing than being of a specific religious brand and holding a specific stance of a set of issues. Politics has its own rules and requirements independent of specific religiosity. In addition to a religious worldview, a great president has to have an intimate understanding of those rules and requirements and be able to use them to his or her favor. We need to learn to look for that capability just as much as we look for where they stand on abortion or SSM.
If we don’t we are just going to keep on setting up our own straw men for the media to knock down.