Truthiness in Action: A Modest Proposal for Better Presidential Campaigns

This year’s debates, both presidential and vice-presidential, have been a triumph for the math nerds.

Candidates have hurled numbers at one another at a lightning pace.  A $5 trillion tax cut.  23 million Americans out of work.

They might as well have claimed that  as far as the American public’s understanding of things has gone.

That’s the first problem: average Americans can’t understand this stuff.

The second problem is that, as the candidates never miss an opportunity to point out, we can’t trust what either of them actually says.  Each contends that his opponent is lying to the American people.  Third parties, especially on the Internet, seem to take extreme relish in substantiating these claims.  And so, with the words each candidate says dismissed as “malarkey” and “stuff” (in Joe Biden’s overly sanitary description), we can’t trust a thing they say.

How do we fix these two problems that, together, are destroying the usefulness of these presidential debates and, by extension, the campaigns as a whole?

I have a suggestion, and it hinges on a quintessentially American institution that all Americans have the capacity to understand and which, by definition, is trustworthy.

I am talking, of course, of reality television.

It’s perfect!  We’ll turn election season into a 24-episode, weekly run of Hard Knocks meets X Factor meets The Bachelor(ette) meets Honey Boo Boo.

We’ll follow the campaigns and go “behind the scenes.”  We’ll be there for the drama when Michelle castigates Barack for eating too much junk food on the campaign trail.  We’ll see how, yes, Mitt is actually a warm and fuzzy human being when he’s alone in a room with his wife and clone-sons (and the cameras, of course).

Maybe Ryan Seacrest will finally be able to get some specific policy stances out of Romney during the Fear Factor segment, when the choices are to either get specific on tax policy or be thrown into a pit of writhing snakes.

We’ll see the candidates come out and explain their positions using song, art, or interpretive dance.  Simon Cowell will be sitting off to the side with a dedicated team of fact checkers, and any time Mitt Romney’s pirouette or the President’s slight pitchiness indicates a lie, omission, or misstatement, he’ll use a big loud buzzer and the candidate will drop through a trapdoor.  Simon’s perfect for this because, as a British subject, he doesn’t have a horse in this race.

(Mitt, on the other hand, seems to have a horse in every race.)

Finally, on election night, the whole nation will get to participate in one big rose ceremony.  Americans will go to the polls and give their rose to either Romney or Obama.  The votes will be in, the loser will get a nice sad country song, and the winner will get the White House, a broken economy, and a restrictive record deal!

Only 17% of couples from The Bachelor make it more than 4 years, and none have made it more than 8, so our Constitution is generous when it allows the winner of this contest to try it again in 4 years to keep his job.

John Jeremiah Sullivan, American essayist and writer, says the following in his book Pulphead:

“People hate these shows, but their hatred smacks of denial. It’s all there, all the old American grotesques, the test-tube babies of Whitman and Poe, a great gauntlet of doubtless eyes, big mouths spewing fantastic catchphrase fountains of impenetrable self-justification, muttering dark prayers, calling on God to strike down those who would fuck with their money, their cash, and always knowing, always preaching. Using weird phrases that nobody uses, except everybody uses them now. Constantly talking about ‘goals.’ Throwing carbonic acid on our castmates because they used our special cup and then calling our mom to say, in a baby voice, ‘People don’t get me here.’ Walking around half-naked with a butcher knife behind our backs. Telling it like it is, y’all (what-what). And never passive-aggressive, no. Saying it straight to your face. But crying… My God, there have been more tears shed on reality TV than by all the war widows of the world. Are we so raw? It must be so. There are simply too many of them – too many shows and too many people on the shows – for them not to be revealing something endemic. This is us, a people of savage sentimentality, weeping and lifting weights.”

He’s right, of course.  This is us.  And our presidential contests reflect it.

Politics can no longer be counted on to rise above it all, to provide any sort of sweeping hope or sense of destiny or shared vision for America.  Campaigns are vehicles of idiosyncrasy, designed to appeal to the 50.1% they need and no more.

We should embrace this fact.  With all the lies, misstatements, omissions, ploys, tricks, gimmicks, posturing, and hair gel that go into a political campaign, it’s practically a reality show already.  Why not make it official?

What could be more American than that?

Nathan Reeves is a 1L. His column runs every other Tuesday.

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Record. 

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