Gigolos on the Campaign Trail


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The presidential candidates, once promising eternal love to Iowaand New Hampshire, have deserted their betrothed faster than a gigoloditching a plain rich girl for a plain richer one. Together, Iowa andNew Hampshire have less than 1.5 percent of the American population,but because the states figured out how to be the first in the racefor delegates, and because there isn't a lot to do in January, thecandidates and the bus-bound media hordes saturated the two stateswith their personality-drenched presence. For three months, thecandidates walked around the non-voting homeless to infiltrate everybar, restaurant, and fire hall, kissing babies, pumping the flesh,and dribbling campaign trinkets of every price category.

In Iowa, the candidates ate corn and pork chops, and talked aboutthe need to help farmers. If pigs could vote--the state has fivetimes as many pigs as people--the candidates would have preached adoctrine of forced vegetarianism. In New Hampshire, they sloppedmaple syrup onto their pancakes and talked about why governmentshould stay out of people's lives. By the time they waddle intoPennsylvania in April, they will be proclaiming that the perfect foodis cheesesteak hoagies and that the Eagles really should have won theSuper Bowl--if they could only have made the play offs.

By the November 7 general election, they will have spent about$275-325 million, the equivalent of the human resources and educationbudgets of a small country, or enough to significantly reduce povertyin America.

CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC cleared their schedules to give almost24-hour coverage to the Iowa and New Hampshire campaigns,significantly more air time than any of the news media gave to theMidwest flood of 1993 that caused about $20 billion in damage, andforced several hundred thousand out of their homes. Unable to focusupon issues, probably because the Iowa and New Hampshire wintersfreeze brain cells, the media threw six-column headlines above gossipand conjecture to question John McCain's mental stability for havingspent several years in a Vietnamese POW camp, and Bill Bradley'sirregular heartbeat.

Instead of detailed coverage of Bradley's chest, the media shouldbe cutting into the heart of politics by dissecting the who, how, andwhy of campaign financing, perhaps looking at the George W. Bushcampaign war chest to see if "Dubya" has any of his soul left that hehasn't sold.

The TV media, with journalists an almost extinct minority amongwhat passes as their news staffs, think the best way to cover theprimaries is to display 10 seconds of a candidate's visit to theRotary Club luncheon, then shove in another 45 seconds of publiccomments about the candidate who probably didn't say anything ofsubstance to begin with. The Iowa and New Hampshire voters were somedia-savvy that they no longer had to ask what slant the reporterswanted for their stories.

Print media reporters spend as much as five minutes with apotential voter, condensing the comments to about 30 words. Forvariety, the reporters quote each other and the pride of pollsterswho hover like trash-dump flies around political campaigns and themedia circus. They eruditely declare that if Candidate X doesn't doat least so much percent in the vote, then he's finished, and ifCandidate Y wins the election but doesn't score at least so manypoints ahead of the next candidate, he's also toast. But, ifCandidate Z does better than "expected," he's "in the race" and"ready for the long haul."

The candidates are now wooing the voters of the 16 states in theMarch 7 "Super Tuesday" primaries. Like they did to their jiltedlovers in Iowa and New Hampshire, the candidates are again whisperingsweet-nothings that are overheard and published by the media who, inthe movie-script scenarios that have become politics, are cast aslovable klutzes who never get the girl.

Most presidential candidates are good people caught up in the showthat has become politics. On stage, bathed by the media glow, theyare "warm and fuzzy," having already compromised their integrity forpolitical expedience. Perhaps, it's time for Martin Sheen, who playsthe president on "The West Wing," and Aaron Sorokin who writes andproduces one of TV's best dramas in years, to run our country. Atleast until the ratings slip, we'll have more intelligence andhonesty in fiction than we now do in the political process.Brasch, a national award-winning journalist who has coverednumerous elections, is professor of journalism at BloomsburgUniversity, Pennsylvania. He is a contributing editor of USAfrica TheNewspaper and

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