Ben Fritz, writing for The American Prospect, is a little late with his take on the proposed FX TV show American Candidate. I do, however, agree with several of his points (see here and here). His concluding paragraph is interesting, but not for the reasons he supposes:
It’s still highly unlikely, of course, that a new TV show on a cable network will produce America’s next president. But if American Candidate is successful and produces a contender who has an impact on the 2004 election, the major parties and the media might have to take a second look at how they’ve conducted our recent elections. Perhaps they’ll realize that a little more drama and a lot less emphasis on fund raising could help create a stronger democracy — and that a little built-in TV time can’t hurt.
Creating a stronger democracy is not an idea in serious play in American politics (except among the few citizens who worry about such things). Instead, winning is the name of the game. You can’t lead if you don’t win. Yes, if American Candidate has an impact on the election then the parties and the news media will likely adapt in some way to the implications of that impact. But don’t suppose it will have anything to do with creating a stronger democracy. Instead, any changes will attempt to exploit the new reality for political or monetary gain. TV only makes this situation worse by adding drama of a certain sort.
Fritz seems to believe that American Candidate will create good competition, or, perhaps, cogent debate, because the 100 “candidates” won’t have to fight for campaign dollars–FX foots the bill. Hmmmmm…let me see…100 candidates and 13 1-hour shows. Yep, we’ll sure get a comprehensive treatment of issues with this set up! Rather than break new ground in presenting candidates, FX will instead be forced to pander to the kind of information TV presents best: dramatic image. How will this be any different from the way TV currently covers presidential campaigns?
The most important point Fritz makes is that American Candidate might call critical attention to the lopsided and undemocratic primary process. That would be a good thing.