Many Americans are less than enthusiastic about the presidential candidates who will be on the ballot in 2016. A media phenomenon of this millennium presents an alternative to simply accepting what the Democrats and Republicans will offer up. Envision a reality series TV program, along the lines of Survivor or American Idol. Or think America’s Got Talent. But for talent on other attributes, not simply entertainment.
The contestants, selected by a blue-ribbon panel, are believed to have what it takes to be President. They would be drawn from industry, academia, entertainment, the law, the military…and yes, even from politics. We might call the show “The Candidate.”
The contestants are confronted with significant challenges that could be faced by the next Administration. Each week, there is one challenge presented to the (remaining) contestants. They have a specified number of minutes in which to complete it. In the earlier weeks, the challenges are simpler and the time period shorter, since there are a larger number of contestants competing during this one-hour show. As the weeks go on, and the field narrows, the challenges grow in complexity, and more time is afforded for their completion.
An example of an early, simple challenge is: “How would you solve the immigration problem? You have 2 minutes to present a high-level summary of your solution.” Well, maybe that’s not so simple. But they should be able to get across the essence of their solution in a couple of minutes.
An example of a later, more complex challenge is: “You are ultimately responsible for determining the trade-off between national security and personal privacy, in this age of terrorism. You have up to 7 minutes to give your speech to the American public, communicating your decision and convincing the citizenry that it is the right way to proceed.”
There would be only 2 judges, in order to minimize the time taken up by review and evaluation. After a contestant performs, each judge provides a one-minute assessment of that performance. We would want this judging activity to be entertaining as well as enlightening. Therefore, consideration should be given to people like Chris Matthews, Bill O’Reilly, John Stewart, Steven Colbert, Joe Scarborough, and Mary Matalin. Note, however, that they make no decisions; they just provide commentary that might help the viewers in their voting decisions.
The final week, when there are only 2 contestants remaining, the entire program is devoted to a debate between them. Up until that final week, the contestants are kept in isolation while their fellow competitors are responding to the challenges.
If we start with a dozen contestants, with only one left standing after a few months, that person will have built up enormous public support and will actually have a rather decent shot at landing the Presidency – even as a write-in candidate. No paid political advertising necessary.
The Candidate would be a ground-breaking, educational, entertaining, and intellectually stimulating experience for all its viewers. Attractive to its sponsors. Profitable for its network. And it might even bring us a President of exceptional and unprecedented “talent.” Note, too, that this approach could be utilized by local TV stations, to nominate candidates for election to other political offices.
In our democracy, we get to cast our ballots for the nominated candidates that we prefer. But our choices are severely restricted. Money, connections, and the political power structure lay out our limited options. TV and the Internet have been deployed to effectively promote these politicians. But to have a true democracy, wouldn’t it make more sense to open up the field, challenge a wider range of qualified individuals to demonstrate their capabilities to us all, and thus enable the population to put up another choice?
Given the current and widespread dissatisfaction with Washington, it seems that the time is right to profoundly transform our nation’s political process. Through the competitive dynamics of The Candidate, TV and technology can ratchet up the quality of Presidential nominees, optimizing the likelihood that we will acquire the talented leadership that our nation fervently desires and so truly deserves.