The media don't tell us what to think; they tell us what to think about. My friend Roger Haney told me that, and it seems to be true. Lately, the media are telling us to start thinking about the Y2K presidential election. In particular, they tell us to think about money. According to the media, cash determines who's in or out. Of course, the candidates need all that dough to buy advertising to enrich the fat cats who own the media.
Thus we hear a lot about Junior Bush, who has a pretty face and a bankroll, and Junior Forbes, who has -- a bankroll, from his media empire. Meanwhile, John McCain, Mr. Integrity, the former POW, struggles to get out of the limelight. All he's done is advance the idea, stated so eloquently by comedian Will Durst, that the only difference between a campaign contribution and a bribe is five syllables. Then McCain publishes a best-selling book, and all of a sudden, he became wealthier, and more marketable. Now he's challenging the front runners, eating into the Famous Juniors' lead. It doesn't seem to matter that all this handicapping is pure fabrication. No one has voted for any of these guys, so we have a bunch of public opinion polls whose results are heavily influenced by media attention to the candidates. Do I detect an incestuous vicious cycle here?
Meanwhile, over in the other party, we have two bright, experienced fellows who think they know what the job of being president is all about. But when the media describe Bradley, I hear the words "long-shot" often, and Gore's campaign is always "troubled" or "frustrating." Although they both have raised enough money to run a credible race, they aren't in the same league with the Famous Juniors. And they're interested in waging an intellectual, almost cerebral campaign against each other.
Their first joint press conference (You can't really call it a debate.) was indicative. Bradley and Gore held forth for an hour on health care, education, campaign finance reform, the federal budget, and other substantive issues without taking cheap shots at each other. It was refreshing, somewhat intellectual, and very dull TV. Plus, the Bradley - Gore show competed with the 4th game of the World Series and the live auction of Marilyn Monroe's old clothes so almost no one watched, aside from a few New Hampshire spinsters who wanted to see how Cousin Emily's new hairdo looked on TV. They have to do better if either man hopes to get attention.
What I recommend is a program that the wrestling industry calls a work-shoot. In other words, why don't Bradley and Gore rig the debates? They're perfect for the parts because they know each other so well. I'd go so far as to hire Vince McMahon, Paul Heyman, and Russo and Ferrara, the folks who put big time wrestling on prime time TV 3 nights a week, to write the scripts.
In a best of seven schedule, Gore comes out of the chute with a surprise display of electioneering prowess gleaned from his 1988 campaign, which no one mentions any more. He eats Bradley's lunch in the first two rounds. Then the former New York Knicks forward mounts a comeback, just like in the playoffs, and sweeps three in a row. Gore evens it up in number six, but it's a disputed victory.
Suddenly, the entire nation is eagerly anticipating the seventh and deciding debate. This time, they do it for real. It's a "Loser Leaves Town, Winner Has to Stay" matchup. Somehow, that's appropriate for Washington these days.