The best free show on TV

By Brad Franklin
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, July 16, 2012
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Americans are among the world's foremost contributors to public entertainment. Hollywood churns out movies with ever-higher budgets and spectacular special effects. The television industry produces endless new programs from documentaries to comedies to mysteries to the ubiquitous court-room reality shows. Public spectaculars such as sports, musical extravaganzas and tours of natural wonders abound. However, for me, they pale into insignificance beside the best show on television these days, the American presidential race.

As a former reporter on the Canadian national political scene I am, admittedly, something of a political junkie. I have known Canadian politicians who were excellent, terrible and across the spectrum in between. The good ones and most of the others are dedicated to serving their country. Canadian politics is interesting but the Americans, showmen that they are, know how to stage presidential races that are truly spectacular.

Compared with a Hollywood production, the presidential race is notably limited in its cast. Discounting fringe groups, there are only two parties in US politics and only two presidential contenders. The budget, on the other hand, would make a Hollywood mogul green with envy. Tens of millions will be spent by each party to get their candidate elected and the money comes, of course, from the people. Ironically, for all this expenditure, the people do not get to directly elect their president; the winner is instead formally selected by the antiquated electoral college.

Although there are only two lead actors in this drama, incumbent president Barack Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the supporting casts are immense. Behind the two candidates and their running mates are thousands, if not millions of people who raise money, hand out leaflets, drive buses to take people to the polls, make phone calls to urge voters to vote, put up signs, go door to door and do the hundreds of other jobs that go on behind the scenes. Meanwhile, the two main candidates jockey for position as they schmooze with the voters, appear at events all over the country, and, most importantly, try to avoid making that "Deadly Mistake" which could cost them the election.

The structure of the American political system is such that there is a core of unwavering support for each of the two candidates. Those people who pride themselves on being life-long Democrats will vote for Obama and those who are Republican will vote for Romney no matter what happens. There are, however, a small group of so-called "swing voters" who actually watch the presidential debates, read the brochures and signs, listen to the candidates and, ultimately, will decide the outcome of the election. The candidates must continually stroke their core supporters to keep them loyal but it is the swing voters who are the real target of all that money and effort and the crucial people who will react if a candidate makes the Deadly Mistake. The election won't go to a winner so much as it will to the last man standing.

The Mistake doesn't have to be big; it just has to be seen. Each candidate has people scouring everything the other guy says and does looking for something inconsistent, something that is inaccurate or simply something which, taken out of context, can appear to show the rival doesn't know what he's talking about or has contradicted himself. Within hours that error will be dissected, portrayed as a major gaffe and publicized for all to see. The Mistake must be avoided at all costs. This game is deadly serious as it is being played for stakes that include four years in the most powerful job in the world. Two people are jousting on a grand scale, the future direction of America rests on the winner. It's heady stuff and it makes for great television, particularly for an observer on the sidelines in Canada. I don't understand why my wife doesn't like it.

Brad Franklin is a former political reporter, newscaster and federal government employee in Canada. He is a regular columnist for China's English Salon magazine and lives on Vancouver Island.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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