Shortly, we, the American zombies, will sit fastened to our televisions to watch the debates between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney. What we will really be seeing is the latest prime time event to arrive on the American media circuit (read: circus). This is American theater at its best.
There is no greater show on earth. Nothing can be more choreographed to account for every step, smile, gesture, and pointed moment of challenge to his adversary. Broadway actors could only hope to achieve such a level of preparedness and perfection in their own regular performances. We will look on as both candidates take the stage and greet their opponent with a smile and a disingenuous “good luck.” Each will wave and point to random members of the audience and mumble some muted, but ostensibly positive remarks. (Most stage actors will likely notice that they are actually muttering, “peas and carrots, peas and carrots”).
Each candidate will be careful to look and sound presidential. Grey hairs will be meticulously dyed to signal wisdom and experience: emphasized at Romney’s sideburns and more evenly distributed around Obama’s head. Body language will be cautiously scripted to accentuate moments of utter confidence; a finger point, a two-handed podium grab, a stare in the direction of the camera.
Following the debate, some will sit back and watch folks like Frank Luntz (of Fox News) explain the graphs that indicate the relationship between zingers and their immediate impact on public opinion. As is customary, the sound bites that will form the essence of campaign commercials until Election Day will be extracted at the close of the debates. The Governor Rick Perryish, Dan Quayle-like and Joe Bidenesque ones will potentially sustain their opposite number in the polls. The superior Bill Clintonian and Ronald Reaganian one-liners will likely enter and remain in the collective American memory. The best ones will become popular bumper stickers.
Campaign promises such as “Read my lips” and “close Guantanamo” will roll smoothly from their mouths. They will be designed to mollycoddle the American voter with the oft-absent sense of sincerity that characterizes political campaigns. Each candidate will attempt to construct a demonic image of his opponent: Romney is a capitalist cannibal, Obama a socialist ideologue. The message: “I’m the beneficent, and he the maleficent.”
Let the performances commence. Let the average American audience feel warm and tingly as their favorite entertainer earns the electoral Oscar. In the end, likeability is king. A credible message will be more readily received by the actor who best combines his talents of persuasion, while deflecting the other’s criticism with wit, humor, and the confidence of Captain Sulley Sullenberger. So recline and relax, or revel and clap at the magic of the showstoppers. For this is American theater at its best folks!