When the four remaining Republican candidates met in Arizona to debate for the 20th, I think, time this primary season, the public greeted the event with a gamut of emotions that ranged from horrified to apathetic. Those who watched it did so not to gain insights into the candidates positions (which, such as they are, remain well-known), but to stay abreast of flip-flops, childlike attacks on other candidates, and self-incriminating soundbytes.
There are too many debates. This is true in 2012, and it was true of both parties in 2008. They never served their actual function, to argue the merits of their positions, and have been harnessed to get a brief name-check on the news, spread scandalous information about one’s opponents, or change one’s political trajectory and momentum. They are, in short, a theoretically sound idea that has denigrated into an extremely poor way of gauging someone’s fitness to be president.
At lunch today, a number of my colleagues here in Singapore have devised an alternate way of letting the public get a sense of who the candidates are, where they stand, and how they will run the country if elected. Part decathlon, part reality-TV extravaganza, I have chosen 14 separate events to be undertaken by the candidates in a randomly selected order. If these seem ridiculous, I humbly ask you– is any of this less ridiculous than the current political climes in which we live? Can anything make a greater mockery of our political system than the present state of affairs?
Event #1: Talent Show: Think of how great this would have been over the years– listening to Bill Clinton play the sax, watching Gerald Ford tackle unsuspecting bystanders, witnessing Mitt Romney baptize the dead…
Event #2: Tetris: Although Cold Warriors may find its Russian origins suspect, making coherent blocks out of ill-fitting pieces is not at all a bad approximation of the budget process.
Event #3: I’m a Presidential Candidate…Get Me Out of Here! Candidates are dropped off in a remote location with a video crew, and their attempts to make their way back to civilization are documented.
Event #4: Would You Rather…. Answers the questions the public has clamored to know: would you rather have mermaids be real or unicorns be real?
Event#5: Hungry, Hungry Hippos: A board game-cum-allegory for late 20th century capitalism, seeing which candidate can successfully manipulate plastic hippopotami to get the greatest number of tiny white marbles can predict their skill at fundraising.
Event#6: Rock, Paper, Scissors: I once did an entire presentation in a political science class on why rock, paper, scissors would be a superior form of presidential selection. Think about it. This game requires that you out-think your opponents by anticipating their moves and adjusting yours accordingly. What is better preparation for dealing with rogue despots and tyrannical, capricious rulers than that?
Event #7: Wipe-Out: The popular Japanese-style tv game show on ABC is virtually made for presidential elections. Just have them run around the course, trying to avoid falling into the water below and risking debilitating injury.
Event #8: Mumbletypeg: Candidates hammer a peg into the ground, which their opponent of choice must remove with his or her teeth. A reliable gauge of bicuspid strength, this event will be sponsored by the Molar Majority.
Event #9: Legends of the Hidden Temple: Can the candidate outwit the temple guards, successfully assemble the monkey, and find the lost artifact? Only Olmec knows.
Event #10: Film Festival: More revealing than you think. What will they make– Frank Capra-esque patriotic swill? A surprisingly violent avant-garde piece? A light-hearted musical, with just a bit too much eyebrow-raising flair? This would be a window into the candidates’ vision and worldview.
Event #11: Battleship: A wargame scenario by which to test their military strategy.
Event #12: Live-Action Dungeons and Dragons: The presidential hopefuls will dress up as their favorite paladin, ranger, mage or bard and wrack up experience points by slaying trolls and navigating through lost tunnels. Their alignment choices also tell us a great deal about their candidates. Are they lawful evil? Chaotic neutral? Similarly it shows, better than any other event, how to resolve conflict. Hack-and-slash violence? Cunning and wit? Wizardry and spellcasting (hey, if Christine O’Donnell ever runs for office again….)
Event #13: Election Night board game: Designed by my friend Jared Scarborough, if a candidate cannot win a simulation of an election, why should they be trusted to win the real thing?
Event #14: Wife-Swap (clarification: current wives only) (clarification ii: this refers to filming everyday interactions between the candidate and their new ‘spouse’ a la the eponymous reality tv show, not the socio-sexual activity) How will the presidential aspirants deal with a new domestic environment? Mitt Romney flip-flops on curfew, irritating Karen Santorum. Calista Gingrich wants a schedule to organize who does the household chores, but Ron Paul insists its every man for himself.