Jewish World Review August 12, 2004 / 25 Menachem-Av, 5764

Lloyd Garver

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The Political Olympics | This year, there are more TV commercials for presidential candidates than ever before. There you are, in the middle of watching "Who Wants to Marry My Step-Grandmother?" and all of a sudden, you get a message from John Kerry saying, "Hope is on the way." Or President Bush might pop up and tell you to "stay the course" while you're watching "Good Cops Who Go Bad." Not surprisingly, both political campaigns use the Nielsen ratings and other market research to help them target which shows to advertise on. What does surprise me is that both campaigns seem to be targeting the exact opposite audiences that I think they should be wooing.

Mr. Bush's pollsters tell him that he's weak among women and African American voters. Kerry's experts say he could use some help in rural areas and with conservative urban males. So, what do the campaigns do? Does Kerry buy time on "The Farm Report?" Does the president invest heavily in "The Ellen DeGeneres Show?" No. Kerry buys ads on female talk shows that his constituency is already watching, and Mr. Bush advertises on cop shows that appeal to conservative, urban males who probably would have voted for him anyway. Kerry has run hundreds of ads on shows that have African American stars, but Mr. Bush doesn't even include those shows on his list of the top 100 shows on which he advertises. Both campaigns are "solidifying their base," rather than reaching out to possible new constituents. They're not even bothering to try to change the minds of the people whose minds are hard to change.

We don't need more "preaching to the choir." We get enough of that at the conventions when candidates just have to say, "G-d Bless America," and the people with the funny hats give them standing ovations.

I know they have to make some decisions about where and how to spend their money, but I think they've gone overboard using their research. Neither candidate seems to be trying very hard to change the color of any of the "red" or "blue" states. Mostly, they're both just hoping to win over the "undecideds." It's like in high school when the pretty girl ignores the nice, loyal, dependable guy because she's attracted to the dangerous, sexy guy. The sexy guy ends up breaking her heart, cheating with her best friend, and stealing her mother's Camaro. Is there a more perfect political metaphor? Ignoring the great majority of us is a big mistake.

For one thing, it's not in the right spirit. Perseverance and bucking the odds are admirable traits and certainly within the American tradition. Fortunately the Colonists didn't have researchers telling them, "The British are overwhelming favorites, so you shouldn't even bother with the revolution. Maybe you should think about fighting the French instead."

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If your candidate is having trouble connecting with a certain segment of the population, don't you want him to try harder and harder to convince that group that he is the best man for the job? Shouldn't this be what a political campaign is all about, not just keeping your base happy, and hoping to get a few swing votes?

We all hate being categorized. We don't like "experts" saying that because of our occupation, skin color, or favorite shampoo they definitely know how we'll vote. The candidates should be very careful about this, and should remember that it's just as much of a mistake to assume that they have someone's vote as it is to assume that they can't get someone else's vote. Both candidates should be trying to get all of our votes.

Despite the impeccable logic of this column, I don't expect the campaigns to abandon their gods of Research and Statistics. However, I think I have a way that we can fight back. We should all just start watching television programs that we normally don't watch. Then, the ads will be reaching the "wrong" target audiences, the campaigns will have wasted their money, and maybe they will reevaluate their approach. So, to do my part, I plan to start watching, "Desperate Housewives," "America's Next Top Model," and "Amish in the City."

Who am I kidding? I could never survive that. And I'll bet those cunning political strategists know it. It will probably seem like a natural to those executives who give us things like, "Growing Up Dahmer," or whatever their latest "reality" series is called. Both the Olympics and the presidential elections come every four years. Sports and politics have a lot in common.

For example, stretching is something that athletes do with their muscles before they compete. Stretching is something that candidates do with the truth while they compete.

Female wrestling is a new sport in the Olympics, but has been going on for a long time in American politics as women continue to fight to have some input and voice in their party. And softball is not just a game played in the Olympics; softball involves the kind of easy questions that reporters ask if they want to keep being invited to fancy cocktail parties or for rides on candidates' jets.

So, maybe it's not that far-fetched to view presidential politics as another version of the Olympics.

The marathon is a long, brutal race, testing each entrant's physical, mental, and spiritual being. Some drop out before the finish line. Some never recover. In politics, this is called, "The Presidential Campaign."

Preliminary heats aren't watched by many people. That's where the Democrats stuck Jesse Jackson and Dennis Kucinich and may wish they stuck Al Sharpton.

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Drug testing is something that has become necessary in Olympic competition. It may become necessary at political conventions as more and more delegates, dye their hair, paint their faces, wear silly hats, and whoop like maniacs every time their state is mentioned.

Synchronized swimming might have inspired synchronized testimony, as President Bush and Dick Cheney insisted on testifying together at the 9/11 hearings.

Balance beam: The Republicans might not enter anybody in this event, since it would be hard to top John Kerry's balancing act of being both for and against the war.

Biased judging: For years, Soviet bloc judges were accused of favoring their own, and in the 2002 Winter Olympics, a French skating judge made a decision that was so obviously biased that it was embarrassing to the world. Obviously, the Florida recount and the Supreme Court decision follow in this Olympic tradition.

A rabbit is someone who rushes to the lead in a long race, sets a ferocious pace for the other runners, and then when he can't keep it up, drops out of the race. In future Olympics, these racers may be referred to as Howard Deans.

The 100-meter dash is one of the shortest Olympic events, lasting around 10 seconds. Expect to see about the same amount of time at the Republican convention devoted to explaining why the economy is "good" now.

Gymnastics provides a model for many political events. At the conventions, "floor exercises" are the exercises that important politicians go through down on the floor, when they shake hands and pretend to listen delegates they don't really care about. The parallel bars are those two bars across the street from the convention halls where the real decisions are made. And the "triple somersault with a twist" is how John McCain explains that he can still support George Bush.

Shooting at targets is an old, Olympic sport, requiring great skill. Shooting at innocent birds in front of photographers, is something politicians in both parties do to demonstrate that they are manly and American.

One of the most popular things on the Olympic broadcasts are the "Up Close And Personal" features. In these, the audience learns that through determination, sacrifice, and family support, the athlete overcame enormous hardships. Politics has co-opted this, and both parties show us how their candidates have overcome their personal hardships of family connections, wealth, and Ivy League educations.

The Republicans probably dream about another Olympic event. It's called javelin catching. According to the rules of this fantasy game, the highest ranking Republicans all throw their javelins at an overweight, scraggly-bearded filmmaker.

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JWR contributor Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. Comment by clicking here. Visit his website by clicking here.


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© 2004, Lloyd Garver