I have a fantasy about a game show for political nerds.
Matthew Mosk predicts that the 2008 presidential campaign will be our first $1 billion political campaign. Personally, I don't think that is such a great deal to spend to decide on the leader of a country with a $12 trillion economy. That is about a tenth of what we spend each year on Halloween candy. But it does raise an important question - if we're going to spend a billion on the media of politics, is this the best way to spend it? Might there be a better way to simultaneously educate voters, raise important issues, and help us to choose the best candidate?
I'd propose instead that we have a game show, something like a cross between Jeopardy and American Idol. Start with lots and lots of people and run them through a series of contests, challenges, and experiences.
The candidate hopefuls would be given tests. Some of the tests would reveal knowledge of the constitution and legal arguments, some an understanding of economics and foreign policy, both theory and current events. Some of the tests would involve simulations - measuring real time reactions to terrorist attacks or financial crisis or managing a deficit.
Other tests would fall into the category of charisma. Candidates would be put before a variety of groups, from small business people to idealistic teenagers, from tree-hugging feminists to flag-waving rednecks. They'd debate one another, handle questions from the audience, and deliver speeches that lasted 2 to 20 minutes.
Perhaps the most interesting segments would involve hidden camera meetings with lobbyists or congress people from the other party. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and Big Oil and everyone else would meet with our candidates and make their case for support. Republican or Democratic Senators would have to be won over to support the candidate's legislation. We could measure, among other things, how well a candidate responded to the pleas of these constituents or the threats of opposing parties.
The entire process would be transparent. Each round, candidates would be ousted from the process, resulting in a smaller and smaller group. At its conclusion, this process might even result in our getting a candidate who hits on all cylinders - charismatic, attractive, energetic, smart, and gifted with both people and policy smarts.
Once this process had concluded, the candidate would be put onto the ballot of every state. When voters stepped into the booth in November of 2008, along with the choices from the Libertarian, Green, Democratic and Republican Parties would be this new candidate - the viewer's choice. The beauty of this is that it would only be taken as seriously as it is taken. That is, the winner of the game show would only end up on ballots - voters could then decide whether that candidate were a better choice than Ron Paul or Jeb Bush or whoever else the parties had chosen as their representatives.
It's easy to conclude that such a show would commercialize politics, but I doubt it. Political campaigns are already shows - just shows that are too scripted to reveal much.
I, for one, would love to see a candidate think on his or her feet - facing a simulated catastrophe or situation. It would even be fascinating to see who they used for their "life line," what adviser they turned to help craft a solution to the problem of a coup in Mexico or a collapse of the US dollar. I think that a contest that tested candidates on something other than their ability to deliver rehearsed phrases could only be healthy.
In this great country of 300 million people, I refuse to believe that we could not have found better candidates than George Bush and John Kerry. It is time to consider a new process. As Buckminster Fuller said, "Use forces, don't fight them." The American people are fascinated by contests, personalities, and TV. Why not harness this force?
After getting this little idea, I decided that it was unlikely that such an idea hadn't been previously been expressed. It turns out that it has been - at least once. Alan Abbott expressed this idea back in May of 2006. Innovation is dead - google repeatedly proves that there is nothing new under the sun.