Houston we have a problem.
American political discourse, and pop culture in general, is divided into two parts:
On one side we have reality. Where liars are not credible, where cause and effect exist and where issues matter to people.
On the other side, we have the reality show. In the reality show it's not about cause and effect. It's about looks, personality, audacity and gimmicks. Celebrities are manufactured in a TV season. The villain is often the most popular character and it's all about outrageous conflicts and "gotcha" twists that create a popular buzz. In the reality show, the debunking of lies and pointing out hypocrisy only makes it juicer when the opponent repeats them without caring. Lies and hypocrisy aren't faults. They are strategies!
The American public likes to believe it lives in reality but large parts of them, with help from the modern "news" model, have been eating the reality show for breakfast lunch and dinner. The Republicans are master craftsman of the reality show and the Democrats are currently campaigning on reality. Even in these hard times with so many important issues at stake, can a political campaign based on reality survive the power of a highly produced reality show?
In reality, the press is given freedom in our democracy so that it can keep politics accountable by penetrating falsehoods and political theater. In the reality show, however, the press is the narrator and they write the script, or repeat the script someone else provided, according to the formulas that get them the most attention.
In reality, Obama can complain about the reality show and say we need to focus on real and meaningful issues. In the reality show, Obama just can't play the game right because it's about thrills, impressions and gut feelings not issues.
In reality, Joe Biden and other Democrats can praise John McCain before they criticize specific policies. In the reality show, people hear praise for John McCain and then blah blah blah.
In reality, when a candidate lies and slanders someone to win an election and they get caught, it means they will lie to the people if they are elected so they are disqualified by voters. In the reality show, lies and slander are accepted by many voters as "putting up a good fight" and being honest and fair is what makes you "soft" because winning is more important than honesty. The trick is to just be dishonest more earnestly and forcefully than those who are debunking the dishonesty. When confronted publicly, the explanation should be even more outrageous. Rinse and repeat. Divide the efforts of the debunkers so they can't keep up. And keep repeating everything as if nothing has changed. Eventually, the debunkers look like nit pickers who just have a knee jerk challenge everything you say. Then accuse them of being angry complainers.
In reality the Republican policies have been governing us for the past 8 years and Republicans have been filibustering, or vetoing, congress since 2004. In the Reality show, it is a compelling storyline that the Republicans have been the honest brokers and the Democrats have been terrible, elitist, partisan obstructionists causing the problem. It's simply the neat twist of this week's show to declare that only a Republican can clean up the mess in Washington.
In reality, someone becomes a celebrity candidate because they earned it by reaching people through long and hard campaigning including a trial by fire against one of the largest political machines in the modern day. In the reality show, you just appoint a cute sassy woman and she is such a crazy twist that she instantly gives your ticket just as much celebrity power.
The reality show is a very powerful force in modern politics. The press uses it to make money and the Republicans use it to motivate people emotionally at the expense of their intellect. It has proven over and over that it can trump reality. I don't know why Democrats think that somehow reality will finally save them from the reality show. Reality has not saved them in the past and I am not confident that it alone will save them this time. Many people don't like reality. Reality is too much work. They would much rather escape into a reality show that confirms their existing prejudices, gives them a hero to root for and a villain they love to hate.
It's time for Obama and Biden, and all Democrats for that matter to stop being so confident in reality and get their game faces on. You don't win when reality is on your side. You win when the reality show is.