Reality TV Obstacle Course Has Logical Outcome

Hi. It’s been a while. I went to France for a month and returned in time for the recent Republican debate on CNBC. I was pretty jetlagged and did not make it all the way through both games of the doubleheader, but the post-debate fist shaking was of greater interest than the event itself.

I never watch CNBC so I don’t know its cast of characters. Well, except one: Jim Cramer. Even in his alleged area of expertise – investing – Cramer is a complete moron. Throughout my 17 years in the investment management business, one of my most consistent (and best received) bits of advice was first to ignore him and second to either change the channel or turn off the television. Both would have had a noticeable positive effect on investment returns. Whatever his level of stupidity about money management, it is exceeded by his stupidity as a presidential debate questioner. Even though the debate was allegedly about money, how does anyone put that guy on the air for anything of any importance whatever?

The post-debate fist shaking relates to gotcha questions, the most pointed of which require the candidate to choose between looking stupid and offending either a large donor or his voter base. Such questions do not make the candidates happy though they reflect well on the moderators who make career-enhancing points for looking tough. The party doesn’t love them either because of the likelihood they will turn up next summer as attack ads aimed at the eventual nominee.

Journalists think gotcha questions are great as long as they are not labeled as such. “Just doing my job” must make them feel better about being in a fading industry. The other fan of gotcha questions is President Obama, who likes to snicker at the whiners while suggesting their lack of readiness to deal with world leaders when they are unable to deal with debate moderators. I am pretty sure he understands that he is president, but I am not sure he thinks much about the last four words of his title: “of the United States.” Somehow, President Obama resembles a parliamentary party leader (who is supposed to be partisan) more than he appears to be president even of those who did not vote for him.

The debates are silly, but they are a symptom of the overarching silliness of the entire process. The skills needed to be elected have nothing whatever to do with the skills required to do the job. It is as if professional athletes won their positions through hot dog eating contests. If eating large numbers of hot dogs is not a skill required in the game itself why would it be a basis for selection?

The game of being elected president is not about the candidates, who now serve as paid placards for brands created by their handlers. The game pits the handlers against each other in a vast mud wrestle fueled by campaign dollars. If you happen to be seeking supporters of Citizen United, look no further than the campaign handlers whose paychecks derive from unlimited contributions.

It is of no importance to the handlers that the obstacle race requires the paid placards (AKA the candidates) to slalom through Super Pac donors, bundlers, retail contributors, debates, Iowa evangelicals, South Carolina rednecks, Facebook and Twitter morons, overlong fund raising letters, robocalls, yard signs and, finally “fuck it, how much do you want for your vote.” The handlers get paid for every step.

Choosing the President by subjecting the candidates to a reality TV obstacle course hardly tells us who will do best on the world stage. Odd, in fact, that President Obama would bring that up, as his own deficiencies suggest that a deeply flawed election process will likely have a deeply flawed outcome.

12 Responses to “Reality TV Obstacle Course Has Logical Outcome”

bill gordon, November 06, 2015 at 6:48 pm said:

It’s a shame the American voters neglect to look at resumes when hiring the person to run their country over the next four years. It now come down to who is the biggest celebrity, best fundraiser and who can win a gotcha debate.

Until this process changes, we are going to continue to get the government we deserve and suffer the consequences that brings.


Haven Pell, November 06, 2015 at 8:18 pm said:

and if we evaluate them by their performance in such donut eating derbies as the Iowa straw poll, we are likely to find nothing more than the best eaters of donuts.


George Packard, November 06, 2015 at 8:46 pm said:

Haven, whatever else his shortcomings may be, I do not think you should link President Obama to the farce that the GOP is subjecting us to ad nauseam. In fact, we will be lucky to find a president who has half of his gravitas, wisdom and vision in the current crop in both parties.


Haven Pell, November 07, 2015 at 12:21 pm said:

George, in a later comment, Ashley Higgins (like you educated in Millville) observes that President Obama injected himself into the Republican scrum. It is perhaps a touch Pollyanna to think a president might actually choose to be president of everyone (even those who voted against him) but a move in that direction and away from near-constant vilification might set an example. It has taken some time to figure it out, but my major objection to this president is his lack of leadership skills. Despite his well concealed prep school education he has learned nothing about being a captain, a role that requires putting the interests of the team ahead of your own. We might never really know the true cost of the word “legacy.”


Jim Lowenstein, November 06, 2015 at 9:25 pm said:

The simplistic views expressed on important foreign policy questions were terrifying , and it makes me wonder who is advising these people and why aren’t they called to account for aiding and abetting.


Haven Pell, November 07, 2015 at 12:38 pm said:

Jim, good point. The advisors are counseling the candidates to tell the voters what they want to hear rather than telling them what would need to be done. We select the president by demanding poll-testing skills then express dismay when the winner is unqualified for the office.


ashley higgins, November 07, 2015 at 12:00 am said:

Very good, Haven. I am dazzled by your last paragraph.

It seems to me that President Obama linked himself. It was totally unnecessary and unpresidential for him to say: “If you can’t handle those guys [the CNN moderators who were asking stupid gotcha questions], I don’t think the Chinese and the Russians are going to be too worried about you.” Besides being a non sequitur, it reminds us that the Chinese and the Russians sure aren’t worried about the President.

Oh, and half of zero is zero. Math is hard.


Haven Pell, November 07, 2015 at 12:25 pm said:

I am surprised that nobody seems to observe that the winners of contests are those who are good at the contesting skills. Set the game up as we have and you are likely to end up with someone skilled at playing it. To say nothing of the countless possible candidates who prefer not to play at all no matter how great the reward.


ashley higgins, November 07, 2015 at 1:38 am said:

Oh, and Gordon, it really is not the fault of the voters if the candidates are egg-sucking dogs. Also, as I remember it, there was no Obama resume to read. So you have to factor in the leftist media’s ability to divert attention to the tingle in one’s legs or the crease in the trousers. No, what happens is that the leftists bay with one voice and the moderates and rightists set up circular firing squads.


Haven Pell, November 07, 2015 at 12:28 pm said:

A friend who has devoted his career to the sport wonders if hockey has been ruined because we are too good at it.

Is it possible that our presidential outcomes are disappointing because the handlers are too good at their craft?


stan hatch, November 07, 2015 at 2:41 am said:

Many Dems turned off the Republican debate because the candidates “did not answer the questions” and the moderators “did not control it.” The questions were silly, as you say. 90% of voters do not want to face the budget situation we are in. If the candidates told the public that taxes need to be increased and that cuts in “entitlements” are necessary, none of them would be elected. We listen to who promises the most free stuff, or at least who promises the least pain. It certainly works.

Regarding PACs, advertising works, or else companies would not pay so much for it. Interesting that most people think “advertising does not affect me.”

The politicians will not deal with a problem until there is a crisis and they have no choice. What a way to run a country. Not surprising the bad feelings there are against “the establishment” politicians. Hillary claims to be an outsider because she is a woman. Seems to me she is pretty well connected.


Haven Pell, November 07, 2015 at 12:34 pm said:

To me, any question along the lines of “what is your policy?” or “what would you do?” is a waste of time because no candidate can possibly know what he or she would do at the time. The far better question is “how would you think about this?” or “what steps would you take to achieve a resolution?”

If I were a debate moderator (don’t hold your breath) I would make two candidates with conflicting positions resolve their differences on stage, thus allowing the voters to evaluate the skills actually required by the job.


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