Every four years the United States puts on the greatest show on earth. No, I am not referring to a quadrennial revival of the 1952 American film in brilliant technicolor of that name produced by Cecil B. DeMille that won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Story. Nor I am referring to a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus visit every four years to your hometown that was at the center of the movie.
The movie has passed into oblivion, sometimes considered the worst-ever Academy Award winner. The circus has had its ups and downs since its beginning in 1919, but certainly can no longer be called the greatest show on earth. While animal rights groups have regularly protested the condition of animals in the circus, I am more concerned here about the survival of donkeys and elephants - Democrats and Republicans - competing in the American presidential election.
The 2016 presidential contest has officially begun. Hillary Clinton launched her campaign with a video showing a wide diversity of groups that focused on her gender and preoccupation with the plight of the middle class. Republicans Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have also announced, with other candidates on both sides getting ready to throw their hats in the ring. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the temptation to compare a candidate’s throwing a hat in the ring with the circus’ three rings, but it fits our comparison.)
How does the presidential election in the United States resemble the greatest show on earth and validate the rings’ comparison? Let’s look at the costs. The 1952 movie cost an estimated $4 million and earned $12 million in North America that year. Chump change by modern standards. It has been predicted that Mrs. Clinton’s campaign alone will cost approximately $2.5 billion and that the donkeys and elephants will spend over $4 billion together to have their candidate elected.
Let’s look at time. Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio announced their candidacies over one and a half years before the actual election. November 4, 2016, is a long way away. In 2005, Tony Blair announced on April 5 that there would be a general election on May 5. That’s one month. The election campaigns in the United Kingdom normally last around four weeks, and traditionally have cost in the tens of millions of dollars.
Cecil B. DeMille was known as a producer of extravagant movies, the forerunner of today’s blockbusters. Among his 70 credits as producer are the silent hit “The Ten Commandments” produced in 1926 and its remake in 1956. There was nothing subtle about DeMille’s productions; he knew the audience wanted to be entertained by the spectacular.
While today’s voters may not be as susceptible to the spectacular, the campaign managers and spin doctors working for the candidates are as manipulative as the great producers. Karl Rove, a political operative working for President George W. Bush said, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” Or, as a most talented spin doctor, John Rendon, declared in a speech at the U.S. Air Force Academy: “I am an information warrior, and a perception manager.” All that can possibly be organized is organized. Speeches are coded; answers to questions are prepared well in advance. The ringmasters direct the chosen elephant and donkey.
Candidates have become actors, performers reading from speeches prepared by hired hands attuned to what a particular audience wants to hear. Everything is scripted. The candidate is in a certain area that wants to hear about a given subject. The candidate knows this in advance and tunes the normal stump speech to what that audience wants to hear. No improvisation, nothing that might upset the local voters. The chosen donkey or elephant cannot ad lib.
Hollywood and politics have morphed together. Today’s Cecil B. DeMille, filmmaker Steven Spielberg, helped President Clinton prepare the Millennium Celebration, orchestrated the 2008 Democratic National Convention and has been rumored to have helped former Speaker Nancy Pelosi to rebrand the image of the House of Representative Democrats. He also helped script President Obama’s presentation at a White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
“The Greatest Show on Earth” referred to a movie about a circus. Both were entertainment. Politics has become the new frontier for entertainment. Hollywood and Washington have become intertwined. But, do we, the voters, want to be entertained or governed?
Correction: In my last blog I misspelled the name of the Swiss basketball player. He is Thabo Sefolosha.