Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Presidential Idol

With Barack Obama finally securing the Democratic Presidential Nomination, all the pieces are in place for yet another reality series. Running from now until November 4, 2008, the Presidential Race will dominate all forms of media from TV to radio to newspapers to right here on our old friend, the series of tubes known as the Inter-Thingee.

Watching the race can be tricky. In fact, tricks are the name of the game. so here are three helpful hints to enable you to make some sort of sense out of all the mud-slinging and untruths.

And oh yes, there will be mud.

Helpful Hint #1: Whatever the Attack Dogs (on either side) harp on most is exactly what they fear is a weakness in their own candidate.

Remember 2004? One of the Presidential candidates was a decorated Vietnam War veteran, the other was an Air National Guardsman who patrolled the dangerous skies over Oklahoma. When he wasn't too coked up. And if he felt like it.

But thanks to incessant attacks (by third parties, natch), it was the decorated Vietnam veteran who was tarred as weak on defense. Nonsense? Sure. But scream it loud enough and often enough and watch it get repeated ad infinitum in the media echo chamber. The trick is to put your opponent on the defensive on an issue that should be his strength and your weakness. That way, any attack the second guy makes in retaliation can be painted as sour grapes.

Helpful Hint #2: Watch the local issues.

What referenda are going to be on your local ballot? Find out and find out early. Those long, windy paragraphs phrased in such a way that you can't tell what "Yes" means or what "No" means are there for one reason: they bring people out to vote who might otherwise take a pass. That's why there will be blatant red-meat propositions placed on ballots all through the country. Many if not most of these referenda are either overturned by courts or modified beyond recognition by legislatures, so they don't really matter. They are an Election Day ploy pure and simple. But the party that energizes its base more effectively will probably triumph in the national Presidential contest and those propositions are a major -- and often overlooked -- tool for doing just that.

Helpful Hint #3: Use the new media. This will probably be the first election where new media like YouTube, blogs (Hi!), and the candidates' own official web presences will play a major part. Don't settle for what the major outlets decide to cram down your throat during this or that news cycle.

But use the new media carefully. Because of the way interactive platforms are structured, it's easy to get trapped into a self-made cocoon that simply corroborates all the opinions you already have. That's not information; that's the opposite of information.

Make a point of stepping outside your ideology once in awhile. Give the other team a chance to make its case. Demand something approaching objectivity from those who call themselves journalists.

You won't get it, but what the hey?

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