Paul Thomas

Reality Check for Politicians Completely out of Touch

Nov 19, 2011 | Americana

The line between politics and entertainment just got even more blurred with the news that the search for a Republican candidate to take on President Barack Obama next year will double as a reality TV show.

Speaking exclusively to the New Zealand Herald this week, America Lacks Talent creator and executive producer Lucifer Fink explained the concept: “We live in interesting times, in the sense of the old Chinese curse. Europe’s a basket case and America’s not much better. I’m no economist but I do have a calculator, and according to my calculations, there’s actually not enough money in the world to fix the system.

“Meanwhile, China’s flexing its muscles, Russia wants to re-start the Cold War and Iran’s close to having the bomb, which makes another war in the Middle East only slightly less certain than the changing of the seasons. Arguably the world hasn’t faced a crisis on this scale since the 1930s.

“When you get down to the nitty-gritty,” says Fink, “democracy is based on the assumption that society is smart enough to identify the problems it faces and agree on a solution - act co-operatively in its own self-interest, in other words. I question that assumption.

“Look around, what do you see? Politicians fiddling while Rome burns, or putting self-advancement and ideology ahead of the public good; voters who change channels as soon as the discussion turns serious, and are distracted by personalities and sideshows; a news media that treats elections like a cross between a soap opera and a sporting tournament.

“Look what’s happening in your country. This tea tape business dwarfs every other election issue put together, but what does it tell us? That your Prime Minister got far too cute for his own good thinking he could combine a photo opportunity with political horse-trading? That he reckons New Zealand First supporters are a dying breed and Don Brash is from another planet? Hello? If those things are dark, unmentionable secrets, then New Zealand politics has got a bad case of the Emperor’s new clothes.”

Fink reveals that he first got the idea for America Lacks Talent during the 2008 US presidential election when Republican candidate John McCain plucked Sarah Palin from Alaskan obscurity to be his running mate.

“Here was a guy, McCain, whose whole career had been based on integrity, patriotism, country first. But because he thought it would help him get elected he chose as his potential vice president, the person who’ll be a heartbeat from the presidency, someone who was hardly better qualified for the position than the average polar bear. Sure, it backfired on him, but let’s not forget that for a time the media was absolutely entranced with Palin and plenty of Americans still are.”

What convinced Fink to go ahead with the project was the brief ascendancy earlier this year of property developer and reality TV star Donald Trump: “Trump’s probably the most preposterous public figure in America, and the idea of him in the White House is absurd and frightening on more counts than I care to contemplate. Yet for a couple of months he was the leading Republican contender and the media treated him as a serious candidate.

ATM takes this trend to its logical conclusion: to enter the race for the Republican nomination and the chance to wrest the presidency from Obama’s shaky grip, contestants first had to prove that they are spectacularly unqualified to occupy the Oval office according to the traditional criteria.“

“So we’ve got the likes of Michelle Bachmann who thinks gay marriage poses a greater threat to America than 5,000 Soviet nuclear missiles and has trouble differentiating between John Wayne, the famous movie star and American icon, and John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer and rapist. Or Herman Cain who can’t decide whether he approved or disapproved of Obama’s handling of the Libyan situation because A, he doesn’t know what Obama did in Libya and B, he doesn’t know where Libya is.”

But how on earth did Fink get the Republican Party to buy into his concept?

“These days the party is pretty much about guns, God and greed so anyone who ticks those boxes is okay with them. Remember that we’re talking about people who sincerely believe the solution to our economic ills is to make the richest people in America, your actual billionaires, pay even less tax and to slash government programmes that assist the most disadvantaged people in society.”

Fink brushes off suggestions that he’s being irresponsible by promoting unqualified candidates for the presidency at such a fraught time in global affairs.

“Kids in America are constantly told that anybody can be president. I just want to find out if that’s true. Literally.”

This article originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald