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2010 Elections: Reality Show Politics?

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While the chattering classes and commentariat keep defining 2010 as an anti-incumbent, pro-woman political year, another dimension to this midterm election season might ultimately prove to be more significant. Outsiders, with varying backgrounds and in growing numbers, are stepping up to run for electoral offices across the country.
Tuesday's California primary put two successful business executives, Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, at the top of the Golden State's Republican ballot for November, with Whitman seeking the governorship and Fiorina vying for the U.S. Senate. Ophthalmologist Rand Paul proudly tells Kentucky voters he's "a career doctor, not a politician," as he campaigns for the Senate. In Florida, Rick Scott, a health care industry entrepreneur, is using the slogan "We need a conservative outsider to hold government accountable" in his drive to win the GOP gubernatorial primary on August 24.
Since 1976, outsiders have dominated presidential politics. Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all positioned themselves as distant from Washington ways to win the White House. The only exception is George H.W. Bush in 1988, and many analysts think voters, in part at least, supported him to applaud the Gipper and his policies for a third time.
Now, however, outsiders abound across the political landscape, and you see their participation at every level. According to a recent Associated Press report, more than 2,300 candidates are running for the 471 House and Senate seats being contested in 2010. That number, certainly enhanced by the Tea Party movement, far exceeds the usual tally of involvement.
New blood for the body politic can bring fresh perspectives into all phases of government and introduce what Reagan called the viewpoint of the "citizen-politician" into democratic deliberations. But one wonders whether something else -- and less salutary -- might also be afoot this year.
To intrude an impertinent yet possibly relevant question: Is it possible that some of the characteristics of "reality" programming on television are becoming an even greater part of our politics?
Think about it: Whether we're considering "Survivor," "Jon & Kate Plus Eight" or "The Real Housewives of D.C.," we are talking about amateurs performing on television, who then become (in historian Daniel Boorstin's famous definition of celebrity) "known for well-knownness." These people-cum-stars think they can do something and showing their activities as a TV program makes it so. Fame and fortune follow.
Interestingly, Sean Duffy, who was a star of the MTV production "The Real World" back in 1997, is currently pursuing the Republican nomination for the House seat (Wisconsin's Seventh District) that Democrat David Obey is vacating. The primary is Sept. 14, and Duffy, now a district attorney in Ashland County, Wis., isn't running from his previous alcohol-filled and duly recorded exploits, according to campaign accounts.
Then, of course, former governor and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin is planning her own eight-episode TV show, "Sarah Palin's Alaska," about the peculiarities of living in the 49th state, and this adventure drives home how porous the borders can be between politics and the media today.
Stripped to its essentials, the designation anti-incumbent also means anti-government and anti-experience, with outsider status having a natural and genuine appeal in such an environment. The novelty of the new is also seductive to many Americans.
However, again to be impertinent, are complicated times the right moment to turn in large numbers to people who might need some on-the-job training in order to command the levers of government? What's reasonable to expect from those who in another line of work would be considered amateurs?
These are questions voters will face in evaluating all of the outsiders in upcoming primaries and in the November elections. As TV announcers are wont to declaim: Stay tuned.
Robert Schmuhl is Walter H. Annenberg-Edmund P. Joyce Chair of American Studies and Journalism at the University of Notre Dame, where he directs the John W. Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics & Democracy.

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Give me a candidate that: 1. Backs up the immigration laws and escort every illegal alien and their newborns out of this country and requires all to go thru the set program by the constitution if they wish to re-enter the United States. 2. Puts up a fence on the Mexican border and the Canadian border. 10 feet high, electrified with razor sharp barbwire on top. Manned turrets every 1/4 mile and warning signs....trespassers will be shot. Strategically places seismographs and such equipment that would detect any tunnel attempt to by-pass the border. 3. Revises the Social Security System to at least match minimum wages plus cost of living. Repeals the social security tax, on social security, which is, in itself, an asinine law. 4. Insures that all American citizens, especial Veterans are not living in the streets under card boxes. Stop giving Billions to Africa, Middle East, India to feed the poor, while millions of Americans are still starving and cannot afford a place to live and even find jobs. 5. Re-opens all closed military bases in the U.S.A., refurbishes the buildings and uses those facilities, already paid for by the tax payers, for shelters for those who have fallen on hard times. 6. Reforms the food stamps and welfare program by closing it down on a certain date and having everyone re-apply by proving that they are American citizens or legal resident aliens and have a social security number. Uses finger prints to assure identity and or DNA of all recipient to insure they are legality entitled to these services. Sets a limit in amount and time an individual is able to be on the program. 7. Revises the retirement plans of our senators to match the military retirement plan. Military personnel have to serve 20 years in order to receive 50% of their pay as retirement pay adding 2% for every two additional years they served past 20 years with a max of 30 years. Today, our "Representatives" in D.C. receive their full pay as a pension, for the rest of their natural lives regardless of how little time they served as elected officials. Is that fair?... I say NO! In addition they are able to vote on their own pay increases without vote from the people or even the president. That law need to be revoked. 8. Goes back 15 years and cuts all those unearned retirement by senators and congressmen. Uses that amount of money recovered to pay for the deficit. That should take a nice chunk out of it. 9. Revamps income taxes to reflect our earnings. Anyone making less than minimal wage or at the poverty level should not have to pay taxes. All retirements, other than Social Security, should be marked as income and should not be exempted. Percentage of income tax should be fixed on an equivalent scale base on the Deficit and the amount of money we earned. The more we earn the more we should pay. When and if the deficit is totaly paid for and their is no longer a deficit in the nation's budget. Then Income taxes should be adjusted as such or completely eliminated.

September 18 2010 at 4:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Once the road to no where, governor dropout, "Drill, Baby, Drill" Sarah Palin became the TEA Party icon it turn me off completely. The Conservative Party platform is the same Republican platform, which now the TEA Party platform and I look at the gulf disaster I see their platform.

June 11 2010 at 8:34 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

I believe one of the most important things that voters have yet to realize, is the value of voting in the primaries. There is generally a small turnout for primaries, but the primaries determine who will be on the election ballot. DO NOT LET OTHERS PICK YOUR CANDIDATES. Get out to those primaries and make your own choice. Just do your homework before you vote.

June 10 2010 at 9:14 AM Report abuse +14 rate up rate down Reply

I think this story makes some excellent points. America is tired of the same old tired promises, speeches, run-down ideas, fighting and incompetence and this is an excellent time for newbies to be running for office. Incumbents need a new argument other than we need their experience, because it's clear America has deciced that's the LAST thing we need any longer.

June 09 2010 at 11:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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