Outwit. Outplay. Outlast—the motto of the parent of the genre of reality television – Survivor. From the Real Housewives franchise to The Apprentice to Chopped, this is the mindset of the world of reality television. This mentality has overtaken our political process.
For all of the angst and revelation of the lies and overstatements of George Santos, all of us have to realize that he is a symptom of the problem. A high-profile exhibit.
Let’s start with the tribal aspect of the l’affaire Santos. None of the members of the House Republican leadership have called for him to resign. It shows that the title leadership is only a title. These Republicans are not showing integrity or consistency, something that is critical to the attribute of leadership.
The ‘why’ is fairly clear. The House Republican Caucus holds a narrow majority. Kevin McCarthy is battling to be Speaker and needs every vote he can get. So instead of being a profile in courage, he is trying to win the challenge.
As for Santos himself, he is seemingly numb to the notion that he is representing the citizens of his district and the lies and misstatements are serious. One only needs to see his response to the questioning of Tulsi Gabbard. He seems to be as blasé as someone who was found exaggerating their LinkedIn profile. Speaking of which, if you don’t think that is an issue, read some of them.
Frankly, over the course of this election cycle, we’ve witnessed the corruption of our political process by the reality television mindset in all sorts of races. Georgia’s symptom Herschel Walker made all sorts of false claims that were found to be false (degree, rank in graduation, law enforcement background), only to lose a race close because he was going to be a reliable vote for one tribe.
And then, if you cannot win the challenge — excuse me — the election by the actual count, there is always the claim that it was rigged. Fixed. Not on the level. A new game – election – needs to be played. So, we have the symptom named Kari Lake. In Arizona, she has continued ad nauseum without evidence that she was cheated out of the Governor’s office.
Sure, there are Democrats who have done lied about their background or turned the process into a torch challenge. Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal overstated his military background. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich tried to turn the appointment of a new U.S. Senator into a reality games show where his political coffers would be filled. Blago ended up not only going to jail, but decided to take his talents to reality television. One more note, for years, those who were part of the supposed Illinois Democratic leadership knew Blagojevich was a slippery character, but didn’t do anything until the taped phone conversations were public.
If you can’t be the victor in reality television, be the pitiful victim. This seems to be the play for George Santos’s fall opponent Robert Zimmerman. Frankly, he didn’t run a great campaign if his team didn’t do the opposition research to uncover these rather obvious holes in the Santos bio. Also, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee should take some responsibility for not digging for dirt that was so near the surface you could call it topsoil.
It seems fitting that reality television has taken hold of the process since one of its premier ringmasters, Donald Trump, won the presidency by campaigning in a style fitting the genre. Primary opponents were given derisive nicknames. He was ubiquitous across television news, doing call-ins when opponents had to be on camera. He even played the victim card in both 2016 and 2020, claiming the system was rigged against him.
Both the processes of politics and policymaking need to be above the pettiness and peevishness of reality television. Elected officials should be held accountable for the claims they make during a campaign. Those who are selected by their party to lead should do exactly that. Lead. Even if there are some negative short-term consequences, show some gumption.
It will help, regardless of Democrat or Republican, the brand. In advertising and marketing, it was best stated by the titan of the Mad Men era David Ogilvy. “It is flagrantly dishonest for an advertising agent to urge consumers to buy a product which he would not allow his own wife to buy.” If he were alive today, Ogilvy might have substituted the word spouse for a wife.
But in marketing, there are brand standards. These go far beyond what font and Peloton colors to use on a logo. You have to state and back up what your brand stands for, and it has to have integrity. Obviously, one organization that has a marketing challenge in this regard is Southwest Airlines. Regardless, it would behoove those leading the political caucuses to be more authentic.
Stop it with the self-righteous barking. If you’re in Congress and you state, “We need to know what the President knew and when the President knew it,” you should be put in the penalty box. It had an impact during the Watergate hearings when first stated by Senator Howard Baker. Since then, it has become a dead horse beaten until it was not breathing, immobile, inanimate, and soulless.
It used to be said that politics was show business for the ugly and untalented. Except for a few shows, reality television has claimed a piece of this title. What we don’t need is for this way of life to continue to strangle the political process. Put away the torches. Use persuasion. Develop standards and hold the members of your party to them.
We may not solve all of the political division in this country if this is done, but it will be a solid start.
Jim Bloom is a marketing executive currently located in Dallas, TX. He has been involved with several digital, mobile, and social startups. Bloom also directed the marketing of the Moneyball era Oakland A’s and Toronto Blue Jays.