If you’re tired of hearing Donald Trump go on about his ratings and polls, if you’re mystified by the Twitter War of the Candidates’ Wives, if you can’t understand why Wolf Blitzer interviews a former contestant on “The Apprentice” as if she were a political authority, then I’ve got a video you really need to watch.Hart, Bai tells us, went on to say in his withdrawal speech that politics in America was "on the verge of becoming another form of athletic competition or sporting match." He said, “In public life, some things may be interesting, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re important.” And this is apparently Bai's favorite line:
The video I’m showing you here, courtesy of C-Span’s archive, is of a presidential candidate speaking in 1987, at a moment of tectonic upheaval in our politics and media.
... the guy who really predicted all of this was Gary Hart....
[In 1987,] his [presidential] campaign unraveled in the space of five surreal days, during which reporters from the Miami Herald hid outside Hart’s home in order to catch him spending time with a younger woman. Hart found himself undone by the first modern political sex scandal -- the inevitable result of myriad forces that were just then reshaping the media....
He closed by paraphrasing his idol, Thomas Jefferson: “I tremble for my country when I think we may in fact get the kind of leaders we deserve.”I know how easy it is to draw that conclusion. What Mark Halperin calls "the freak show" is now ingrained in our politics. Media coverage of political campaigns focuses on many things, but rarely the issues.
Whenever I talk about my book to audiences around the country, I close with those lines. Invariably, I look up to find shocked and silent voters nodding their heads, amazed at how eerily that captures our present reality.
But by tolerating this, are we really getting "the kind of leaders we deserve," i.e., idiots? Bai writes that "we systematically created a process perfectly suited to a manipulative, reality-TV performer like Trump (or Sarah Palin before him)."
Did we really? Look at who won the 1988 Democratic nomination after Hart dropped out: Mike Dukakis -- a very serious man. Yes, the Democratic nominee in 1992 and 1996 seemed ideally suited to a scandal-obsessed culture -- but he was also a serious man with serious political ideas. The Democrats went on to nominate Al Gore and John Kerry -- also serious men. And Barack Obama may carry himself like a rock star at times, but he's serious, too. So are the two Democrats contending for the nomination this year. Even though one of these candidates has been the object of endless scandal talk, she's running on issues, as is her opponent.
So this political culture may be debased, but it doesn't have to elevate Palins and Trumps. In fact, I'd say it's elevating shallow, ill-informed candidates disproportionately on the Republican side. (See, for example, the last Republican president, or the president Hart hoped to succeed.)
Are we getting media coverage of politics that's dumbed down? Yes. Does that make us crave dumbed-down candidates? On the Democratic side, apparently not. On the Republican side? Yeah, sometimes. Which may say more about Republicans than about the freak show.