Politics is theater and politicians are merely the performers. Candidates, like Hollywood stars, seek the best writers and scripts they can afford and we judge them on how they play their roles. To the winners go the trophies of office.
Candidates have always had to appeal to a variety of audiences - we call them voters - but now that everything must be entertainment first, every candidate must show versatility in different kinds of performances, often playing against type. Why else would John Kerry, a stiff New Englander (no matter what his multicultural antecedents are) go on cable-TV's Comedy Central to make fun of his Vietnam heroics?
In a convoluted attack on George W. Bush, the show's host, Jon Stewart, interrupts the senator with a deadpan question: "Were you or were you not in Cambodia?" The two spar nonsensically until the host gets to ask what we really care about: "Is it true that every time I use ketchup, your wife gets a nickel?"
The newest rite of a politician's passage is to show that he can press the pedal to his mettle and be ha-ha funny. This runs counter to what we want or expect from a leader (or what we should want), which is to express well-thought out ideas about something serious, a vision for the future, stated with logic and reason. Spontaneous quips can be entertaining, but tell us little about a person's ability to lead. Can anyone remember a joke by Harry Truman or a racy quip by Dwight Eisenhower?
In an election year, the serious voter tries to establish the authenticity of a candidate's character, the depth of his understanding of problems and the imagination he could apply to finding solutions. Conduct of a war is a serious matter. Comedy should be left to the serious professionals.
Michael Moore, for example, can be a funny man and his mockudramas can entertain us, but we shouldn't take what he says seriously. The Republican delegates to their convention understood this loud and clear, roaring their applause of John McCain's observation that a certain "disingenuous film-maker . would have us believe that Saddam's Iraq was an oasis of peace."
Hollywood celebrities flock to Democratic conventions. Democrats are star-climbers, often mistaking artistic talent for intelligence. The celebrities who prefer the president have considerably less twinkle power than John Kerry's celebrities. Country music and Christian Rock do not inspire bicoastal groupies. But that doesn't say anything serious about the choice in November.