Debate plays like Republican reality TV

Wayne Slater
The Dallas Morning News (MCT)

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. - The Republican presidential debate was not so much a debate, of course, as a TV show.

Sort of American Idol, the early episodes.

Early in the Idol season, the shows are filled with contestants, some destined for the final rounds, some not.

It's the same with the debates.

On Thursday night, the stage was festooned with candidates, 10 in all. And if the average American probably couldn't identify half of them, there was no such problem recognizing the attendant entourage of political pundits and cable TV talkers who play the role of celebrity judges.

There was Chris Matthews, the hyperkinetic MSNBC host, chatting via a video hookup with former anchor Tom Brokaw.

And CNN political analyst Bill Schneider, waiting between takes inside the spin room at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

And NBC's David Gregory, reporting live from the parking lot outside.

After all, Hollywood, where they love a good story is only an hour away. And if campaigns are narratives, part of the script calls on candidates to offer themselves as something new. That poses a challenge for a Republican field seeking to succeed a Republican in the White House.

How do you propose a new direction without repudiating the current administration? President Bush's poll numbers are low, but not among GOP primary numbers.

Arizona Sen. John McCain came closest, twice denouncing the administration's handling of the war in Iraq.

"The war was terribly mismanaged," he said, "and we now have to fix a lot of the mistakes that were made."

Texas Rep. Ron Paul, the most severe critic of the war on the stage, went so far as to challenge the administration's motives.

"Don't get into it for political reasons or pretend the Iraqis were a national threat to us," said the congressman.

Mostly, however, the field was wary of putting too much daylight between themselves and the president - a mistake, according to the chief strategist of Bush's 2004 re-election campaign.

"The candidate who finds a way to successfully break with the Bush administration will be the one who emerges as the nominee," said Matthew Dowd, the one-time Bush aide who has since broken with the president.

Cleaving to the memory of Ronald Reagan was a safer bet. The former president's name was invoked 16 times on Thursday night. Bush's? Just once.

The 40th president is revered among the GOP faithful, and his library is perched atop the rugged, tawny-colored hills where he once made cowboy movies.

The library itself is party history, part hagiography. And when former first lady Nancy Reagan entered the hall on the arm of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the audience gave her a standing ovation.

Afterwards, in the frenzy of the spin room, representatives of each camp pointed up the bright spots in their candidate's performance.

In this post-debate ritual, surrogates enter the room followed by an aide holding up a sign identifying them and are swarmed by reporters hoping to penetrate the sheen of good feelings and maybe even stir up a battle or two. But with a full 20 months left until the next president is chosen, everyone stayed remarkably friendly.

Longtime GOP leader Charlie Black, a McCain surrogate, repeated his candidate's critique of the handling of the war.

"Yes, yes, he does believe the war was mismanaged the first four years and so you have to take that as criticism," Black said.

Across the room, surrounded by a circle of media, Bay Buchanan pronounced Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo an unwavering voice against abortion (unlike former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, she suggested).

"You can't spin the pro-life community," she declared.

But it was Ed Goeas, a Giuliani adviser, who seemed most relieved by his candidate's answer to one of the more esoteric questions of the evening: What's the difference between a Sunni and a Shia Muslim.

Giuliani answered easily, saying Sunnis believe that the caliphate should be selected and the Shiites that it should be determined by the bloodline of Mohammed.

"We didn't prepare for that question," said Goeas, shaking his head.

It's the kind of moment that determines whether you're starring in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire or Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.