Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Time for Show and Tell
It is time for our quadrennial political game of Survivor. Right about now the contestants for this game will begin to line up. Over the next several months “we the people” will begin to cast our votes in earnest to keep or kick off those players who more or less endear themselves to us.
Of course we are talking about the race for the White House. Republican candidates are beginning to line up to compete against our incumbent President, Barack Obama. The Presidential race for 2012 is on. Prerequisite to participate is a certain level of name recognition, access to the best image consultants and vast sums of money.
For those new to this amazing race imagine a grown up game of “show and tell.”
Candidates over the next number of months will amass thousands of frequent miles and hope for an equal number of frequent smiles. Candidates will earn our respect by demonstrating, by showing us, their readiness to be president. The only thing close to the challenge of being president is surviving the challenge of running for president. These candidates will do more than show us, however, they will go to all ends to tell us.
Handlers, those responsible for branding winnable images, know that actions are not enough. “With words we govern men,” Disraeli said. Sound bites and stock speeches will be given in hopes of connecting to the zeitgeist of our time. Obama’s carefully scripted claim to “audacity” and “hope” and “change” carried the “skinny little man with a funny sounding name” all the way to the White House in 2008.
This game of “Show and Tell” is nothing new. We learn about reality through both visualization and story telling. We always have. Greek philosophers wrote extensively about the human need to both see and hear the truth. Showing is the Greek word “mimesis” and the telling is the Greek word “diegesis.”
As we experience the commencement of another presidential election season, let us hope the candidates have learned from past experiences. Hopefully their talents will be more “mimesis” than mere “diegesis.” Show us rather than tell us. Words are cheap.
Walter Benjamin’s classic text, “On the Mimetic Faculty” (1933), can teach us all something:
“Nature creates similarities. One need only think of mimicry. The highest capacity for producing similarities, however, is man’s. His gift of seeing resemblances is nothing other than a rudiment of the powerful compulsion in former times to become and behave like something else. Perhaps there is none of his higher functions in which his mimetic faculty does not play a decisive role.”
To win decisively a presidential candidate must become “one of us.” From our President we do not want more political platitudes. Promising “change” but settling for old routines is like bouncing a check. Do not make promises you cannot keep.
Rather, demonstrate on the campaign trail those qualities and characteristics we know all presidents require. Let us begin with intelligence, integrity and wisdom. These are the qualities we expect from ourselves.
Still feeling a little burned by recent elections, maybe “show and tell” is asking too much this time around. As for me, I would be happy with a game of “show.”