"How Dare They Bore Us!"

In the National Journal, William Powers writes today about the worst thing you can do to somebody in America–bore them. The candidates are doing that already.

“The [Fred] Thompson critique isn’t just about Thompson. It’s emblematic of how central entertainment is to the campaign, and how closely journalists monitor the candidates as pure performers, punishing those who don’t make the grade. In Thompson’s case, the retribution was especially severe because he waited so long to declare, thereby building expectations that he would be a smash on the trail. There is nothing the media hate more than a widely hyped performer — in this case a genuine actor — who turns out to be a dud. How dare he bore us!

And it’s not just the Republicans who are expected to keep things lively. Last week Peggy Noonan, writing on The Wall Street Journal’s website, questioned the conventional wisdom about Hillary’s inevitability, in a piece headlined “Bush … Clinton … Bush … Clinton … Getting very sleepy.” Of course, Noonan made her name working for Ronald Reagan, the first genuine entertainer-as-president and the apotheosis of Riesman’s notion.

If you follow the media very closely, you’ll notice a quiet, spreading panic. Could the ’08 campaign turn out to be a box-office bomb? The highest rated debate so far, the Republicans on September 5, drew about 3 million viewers, not bad when you consider how many debates have been held. Still, Dancing With the Stars can pull in more than 20 million.

Time magazine recently asked George Clooney: “Would you consider running for president one day?” The query was submitted by a reader from California, but I believe that she was echoing a deep-seated, if largely unconscious, media fantasy. You wake up one morning and George Clooney has suddenly jumped into the campaign. Oh yeah. Just imagine the Nielsens on that guy.