Dean Obeidallah: With politics so hyperpolarized, who would want to be president?
So many challenges, he says, but the biggest is unreasonable, demanding voters
He says we treat political leaders like reality show players, up one day, down the next
Obeidallah: We run risk of ending up with leaders who tell us only what we want to hear
Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah is an award-winning comedian who has appeared on TV shows such as Comedy Central’s “Axis of Evil” special, ABC’s “The View,” CNN’s “What the Week” and HLN’s “The Joy Behar Show.” He is executive producer of the annual New York Arab-American Comedy Festival and the Amman Stand Up Comedy Festival. Follow him on Twitter.
I’m struck by one big question as I watch the Republican presidential candidates battle each other while President Obama tries to win re-election: Why does anyone want to be president?
It’s like auditioning to be bandleader on the Titanic. And yes, I said bandleader and not captain because the captain of a ship has more of an impact on the direction of a voyage than President Obama, or any president who might follow him, can have in our hyperpolarized political climate.
With the onslaught of problems he faces today, I wouldn’t be shocked if in the coming weeks President Obama appeared on national TV and declared: “I have an important announcement: I was actually born in Kenya. Joe Biden you take over, I’m outta here!”
But he won’t quit. Instead, he will raise close to a billion dollars for his re-election campaign. Meanwhile, the Republican presidential candidates will viciously fight each other, like gladiators in the Roman Coliseum – which, frankly, the past two Republican debates resembled. The audience jeered and booed, with some at times even applauding the death penalty and cheering the notion of allowing a person with no health insurance to die. All that was missing was a thumbs up or down from the crowd indicating if a candidate should be executed. (This, too, would undoubtedly have been met with cheers.)
Think about it: When you run for president , you are running for the worst job in America. If elected (or re-elected) you must deal with a cascade of domestic and international headaches.
But to me the greatest challenge facing our president (or a new president) is not the economy or the European debt crisis. It’s not the growing influence of China, the Arab Spring or even the issue of Palestinian statehood.
Nope, the biggest challenge the president faces is us. Yes, “We the People.” Simply put, we are horrible. We have become unreasonably demanding. We want everything now and we won’t compromise.
“We the People” have become Veruca Salt from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” making demands in our high-pitched voices: “I want a goose that lays golden eggs and I want it now!!” “I want the deficit reduced now, Daddy!” “I want low taxes but the same government services!”
And if you won’t give us what we want, when we want it, we will turn our back on you. For example, President Obama had almost a 60% approval rating after the killing of Osama Bin Laden in May, but just four months later, a recent poll shows, his approval rating is at 39%. The left wants him to be more liberal, the right wants him to be more conservative and the middle just wants more.
The Republican presidential candidates have seen this, too, with Rick Perry being at first welcomed into the race like the “prodigal son.” Now, only a few weeks later, he looks more like a doomed NASA satellite about to fall from the sky.
What has caused us to become so demanding? The 24-hour news cycle and social media that allows instant real-time commentary have contributed. But an even bigger factor is our conditioning to reality show competitions on TV. On any number of TV shows each week, we watch, judge and vote on whether a person performs to our liking. One week we sing their praises, but the next week, if they misstep, they are dead to us.
We now treat our candidates this way. It’s a presidential version of “Celebrity Apprentice,” where we want to fire – or at least dissect and scrutinize – the president and presidential candidates for every small gaffe. I have seen better treatment for contestants on Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell’s Kitchen” than for our candidates for president.
If this keeps up, what type of candidates for president will we attract in the future? Will it be the smartest and the most qualified or those who, like reality show stars, can weather the cruel glare of an unending spotlight and the fickleness of our affection?
Even reality-show veteran Donald Trump’s skin was too thin to run for president, which is shocking since his skin looks like leather. And, yes, that snarky comment is just the kind of thing I’m talking about, but I’m no better than the rest of us.
Since this seems to be what we crave, why not commit 100% to it and create political reality shows to choose our future presidents? What about shows like: “The Amazing Electoral Race,” “Dancing with the Candidates,” or “So You Think You Can Govern?”
We can vote people off until we are left with the man or woman who has survived by telling us exactly what we want to hear each and every week.
But if we don’t take a break from this “American Presidential Idol” mentality, we will have no one to blame but ourselves when the 2016 presidential campaign pits Mike “The Situation” against the Kardashians.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dean Obeidallah.