Americans Prepare To Elect New Idols

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As an editorial writer, I should be far more interested than I am in following the ups and downs of the Democratic primary and in following the words and actions of President George W. Bush as he gears up to campaign to win a second presidential term.

Frankly, I find the "American Idol" talent competition more interesting, given the talentless losers running in the presidential race. That’s why I keep switching from the cable news coverage of the primaries to this fun, but cheesy TV talent contest.

There are some similarities between both contests, in which people with little shame compete for a big prize. At least the winner of "American Idol" isn’t going to steal my money, or my liberties or bomb a bunch of wogs. It’s like the old quotation about being able to ignore politics, although politics can’t be counted on to ignore you.

In the presidential contest, lightweight candidates who could no more hold an intelligent discussion about states’ rights and limited government than could a chimpanzee are vying to run against a president who keeps lying about why he fought a pre-emptive war against a nation that has never in any way threatened the United States.

The Democratic candidates are basically socialist thugs who want to tax us to death and spend the money on Cuban-style welfare programs. The Republican president wants to do the same thing, although he wants some of the money to go to religious groups. The Democrats are tax and spend, the Republicans are borrow and spend. The Democrats only want to bomb Christian countries on United Nations orders. The Republicans take orders from no one — and they usually prefer to bomb Muslim countries.

The Idol candidates want to sing the same bad songs in a variety of horrific ways. Some like to strut when they screech, others like to shake their booty while they are breaking eardrums. A few are decent, but most are so terrible their singing defies description. That’s the thing about talent contests, you cannot hide your lack of talent the way a presidential candidate can hide his motives.

In the Idol competition, individuals will fly halfway across the country, wait for days in line to get 30 seconds to sing in front of a panel of three talent judges. They do this even though most of them cannot even carry a note. After they are rejected, the talent-less singers curse at the judges, whine to the TV cameras and insist that they should be the next American Idol.

Throw in a trial lawyer, and you’ve got the American culture down to a tee. The presidential candidates fly around the country promising taxpayer goodies to everyone for every thing. No one ever mentions liberty, or limited government, or anything remotely related to the ideas of the founding fathers. At least some of the Idol contenders sing a decent song. At least the Idol candidates are there, foibles and all. Presidential candidates are afraid to offer anything beyond banalities. Howard Dean, the only one of the Democratic candidates who has taken a position remotely close to one I hold (he is against the Iraq war), has been deemed too mentally unstable to win the nomination after he yelled and screamed and pumped his fists in the air after losing the Iowa caucuses.

He had a Prozac moment, I suppose. According to this week’s news stories, it gave voters the willies. I found the outburst mildly endearing, given that it showed that he is not an automaton. Dean might be a commie, but at least he strikes me as a real, albeit annoying, human being. John Kerry, the onetime Vietnam war protester is now bragging about his war credentials and positioning himself as a national security expert. Dean outflanked him on the Left on the war, you see, so Kerry had to find a new place to position himself to voters. This is as close as one gets to principle in these races.

Now, this rich patrician New Englander, the new front-runner, is striking the phony pose of a populist, sticking up for the Little Guy against Vested Interests. Meanwhile, trial lawyer John Edwards, the oily North Carolina senator who is a favorite to become the vice presidential candidate, describes the America we live in as one in which the rich can have anything they want, and the rest of us are at their mercy.

He tells charming stories about growing up a poor, share-cropper’s (or mill worker’s, or whatever) son in a log cabin, or something like that. Wesley Clark is the scariest of the bunch. This fool can’t even pick one position on Iraq and stick to it for a week. In a just world, he would be rotting in a prison in Serbia. Race huckster Al Sharpton is at least funny, and doesn’t take himself too seriously — if his "Saturday Night Live" shtick is to be believed. He definitely is funnier than Joe "Is this a great country, or what?" Lieberman.

The differences are superficial.

They are all liberty-hating thugs, who apparently believe that government should be involved in just about every decision we make. They are running against a man who believes the same thing. The only questions revolve around how much money to steal from taxpayers, how much to give to which special interests, and which areas of life should be regulated the most by federal bureaucrats.

Oh yeah, and which countries to bomb — and whether to wait for U.N. approval before bombing them. Then there’s that pressing federal question about how to handle steroid use in professional sports. I can barely feign interest in this glop.

"American Idol" is a lot more entertaining, a lot less hypocritical. The losers might not think they are losers, but the judges know they are losers, and so does the audience. It’s part of the gag. We’re supposed to be horrified at the many terrible singers.

We’re supposed to treat presidential races like serious events. We’re not supposed to laugh, even when things get pretty funny. Idol is a new twist on an old formula. People always like talent contests. "American Idol" even has a villain: Simon Cowell, the British judge known for his harsh criticisms of the contestants. Actually, Cowell isn’t mean at all. He simply tells horrific singers that their singing is, well, horrific.

The national presidential race needs more Simon Cowells. It needs more people in the media like H.L. Mencken, who was never afraid of lampooning the boobs and morons and holding them up to principled standards. Instead, the American media covers the horse race. We treat every asinine proposal by every candidate as something serious worth discussing. Most members of the media hate liberty as much as the candidates hate it, so no one laughs at the stupid things the candidates say.

In "American Idol," the bad singers usually have no idea they are bad. Sometimes, Simon will make a bet. Go to the shopping mall two blocks away and sing. If you can bring 10 people with you who say you are good, the singer wins the (unspecified) bet. Or go to a nearby bar, and if you don’t clear out half the patrons with your singing, you win. Even after they lose their bets, the singers are not dissuaded. They are great. They know it. It’s the world that’s crazy.

How can one have so little understanding of one’s limitations? What explains these non-musical nudniks?

I think it’s the result of our dumbed-down society’s emphasis on a) celebrity; and b) self-esteem. Most people have no serious goals, but they know they want to be rich and famous. They’ve been told from the beginning of their lives that they are wonderful, and no one in their public schooling is willing to challenge their self-esteem.

So they go through life assured in their own greatness, denied their just desserts by powerful people who just don’t understand, or who are trying to deprive them of their "rights."

It’s different with the presidential candidates. Everywhere they go, they are met by adoring crowds. In every city, there is a newspaper writer who talks about the candidate’s bold new idea. Sometimes they get criticized, but rarely are they humiliated or lampooned.

Where’s Simon Cowell when you need him?

Of course, one can tune out "American Idol" any time one chooses. The winner won’t affect your life at all. And, eventually, we know the winner will have some level of talent. That’s more than we can say about the next president, whether it is the Republican incumbent or one of the Democratic challengers.

Welcome to America, where anyone can be a pop star or president of the United States. All I can say, is at least last year’s finalists Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard have some talent, and have never dropped a bomb on a foreign country.

Steven Greenhut (send him mail) is a senior editorial writer and columnist for the Orange County Register.

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