The New Yorker's Amy Davidson concludes a piece on Monica Lewinsky this way:
We seem doomed to repeat our decades, even when they were farcical the first time around. But is Lewinsky the problem? Or is it, as Barbara Bush said recently, that "if we can't find more than two or three families to run for high office, that's silly." She had been asked about her son Jeb, and the possibility of four out of five Presidents in a row being named either Bush or Clinton. It's our apparent poverty of political choices, not our taste for scandal, that has us caught in an endless loop."Poverty of choices"? No, not really. The Republican field in 2016 is going to be huge, and the Democratic field will grow large -- Warren? Schweitzer? Cuomo? O'Malley? Gillibrand? -- if Hillary Clinton declines to run, or falters. And in terms of quality, I'm not sure the candidate fields are that much worse than they were, say, in 2000, when Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes made George W. Bush look like a moderate.
We have plenty of candidates, but their political appeal is like the appeal of niche cable programming, with even the most popular shows never approaching the rating of hit shows from the days when TV meant three major networks.
Mike Huckabee is Duck Dynasty, or that show with the Duggars. Paul Ryan is Spike or FX or the Outdoor Channel. Elizabeth Warren is MSNBC prime time or the old Current TV. And so on.
Or maybe a better comparison is to music. In the 1950s, there was rock and roll, period; eventually it split into Top 40 and "album rock," then the latter bifurcated into metal and art rock and glam and a few more genres, then there was punk, and within a couple of decades there were multiple varieties of alt-rock and a staggering array of metal subgenres. And I haven't even gotten to country and rap and pop and the many, many genres and subgenres of dance music.
Out of all that, who's the equivalent of the Beatles or the Stones? For a while, maybe it was U2. Now who tops the charts on an ongoing basis? Well, maybe Jay-Z and Beyonce. But who else?
Politics is like that, too. Eastern liberal Democrats probably wouldn't vote for Brian Schweitzer. New Hampshire live-free-or-die Republicans are going be lukewarm to Huckabee and Perry. It's like rural people not watching Mad Men or straight guys not watching HGTV. Who's mass-market? Who transcends the niches?
Well, Hillary. And maybe Jeb. They still sorta seem like rock stars. Everybody else is the National or Schoolboy Q. So that's where we are -- with mostly niche figures, and a couple of folks who made their names before the nichification became so extreme.
I don't know what Barack Obama was in 2008 -- maybe Nirvana, a niche act that shockingly became a superstar act. Maybe that can happen again soon. If not, though, the stadium-fillers are going to be very familiar names.