May 16, 2007
Obama, the ApprenticeBy Gregory A. Collins
A recent column by Alex Beam about Barack Obama's ill-fated candidacy that received attention in the blogosphere can be summed up in one line-there are candidates you date, and candidates you marry. More specifically, the establishment candidate always receives the nomination or is elected, while the more interesting, more inspiring media darling is flirted with but ultimately loses.
This, however, is too simplistic a view of the Democrat-Party nomination process. A more accurate way to look at it is through the lens of the first season of NBC's show, The Apprentice.
The Apprentice consists of a cast of 12 characters assembled ostensibly for the purpose of filling a position in Donald Trump's business empire. A quick review of the cast, however, reveals only one or two who could actually handle the responsibilities associated with a position working for Trump. These can be considered the establishment candidates. The rest were cast to play roles that make the show exciting and generate ratings, but have close to zero chance of winning. The most significant roles (of the 12) include Heartthrob, Eye-candy, Conflict-creator, and Doomed Wholesome Guy. Each role is defined below.
Establishment: Clearly capable of handling large responsibilities and generally can make decisions quickly. Relatively boring personality. Level-headed WASP with solid education and some leadership credentials. Good pedigree. Inevitable promotion will confirm Conflict-creator's suspicions of the white status-quo's commitment to promoting only whites.
Heartthrob: Bright. Clean. Articulate. Limited experience but has good ideas and could conceivably handle the responsibilities of a significant career. Ivy League. Great guy to have a beer with-interesting personality. Often has remarkable past that provides opportunity for a human-interest story. Ultimately will fail, but people like to think he has a chance and never stop rooting for him.
Eye-Candy: No redeeming qualities beyond physical appearance. Smiles frequently; excellent dental hygiene. Often has good college marks as a result of grade inflation. Will say or do almost anything to improve career-morally flexible. Frequently encounters issues with Conflict-creator.
Conflict Creator: Emotionally-unstable. Questionable credentials. Given to making outlandish statements related to race or other sensitive topics. Unable to function in teams larger than one. Mendacious. Often an amoral opportunist eager to use the limelight for other purposes. A sociopath.
Doomed-wholesome guy: Honest, hard-working American whose heartbreaking failure is a foregone conclusion. This character also appears frequently in fictional television to score cheap emotional points in the audience by dying; lasts one episode on Star Trek in which he is hit by all Klingon small-arms fire aimed at Kirk and Bones. Main purpose is to generate complex feelings of sorrow and guilt in the audience upon his elimination, particularly among liberals. Background is generally humble; occasionally mistaken for a rube.
Listed below is the cast of The Apprentice season 1, along with their Democrat primary equivalents from the 2004 and 2008 elections.
This template provides insight into what role each Democrat candidacy will play. Clearly, Hillary Clinton will be the eventual nominee, regardless of how rocky the road or how many times she stumbles or commits gaffes. Obama will continue to enjoy a long series of fawning articles about how he inspires through charisma. Story after story will cover how Obama will draws crowds that are larger and more excited than those Hillary draws, but he won't get much past Iowa or New Hampshire.
John Edwards, playing the role of Eye-Candy, faces a humiliating road of commentary on his appearance and lack of experience. A recent article on his $400 haircuts fits exactly into the template box he occupies. Amy Henry, the Eye Candy of The Apprentice, was compared to a "Stepford wife"-- clearly there are parallels with Edwards. Moreover, his boy-band good looks will call into question how seriously he can be taken, and this issue is magnified when he debates anyone in the running who actually looks his or her age.
Al Sharpton's candidacy (yet to be announced) is merely a means of directing media attention to himself, a need of his that is entirely pathological. In the 2004 election, Sharpton temporarily reduced the spice included in his usual menu of demagoguery. Given his anti-free speech statements during the recent controversy surrounding Imus and the Rutgers women's basketball team however, this may not be the case in 2008. His role as Conflict-creator explains why the networks bothered to include him at all in the 2004 Democrat debates-for the same reason the producers of The Apprentice put Omarosa or Amy Henry on the show-to drive ratings. Just because you have zero chance of being elected doesn't mean you aren't useful for something.
There were several potential candidates for the Doomed Wholesome Guy role. Joe Biden doesn't quite fit the role because he's hard-working but not honest. His candidacy also exploded on the launch pad when-in a brief moment of honesty-Biden made bigoted comments about Obama and Indian donut shop owners. Doomed Wholesome guy is at a minimum supposed to beam down to the surface before being taken out-he can't die in transit. And, rather than generate feelings of sympathy and guilt, the failure of a Dennis Kucinich candidacy sparks an intense rush of schadenfreude among most Americans.
Thus, Bill Richardson is the front-running candidate for Doomed Wholesome Guy, which is the only race he will win in 2008. Richardson's candidacy and the concomitant media stories will focus on what a great guy he is. The small, unfortunate coterie of reporters assigned to him will give him some decent press and good photos kissing babies. But the best he has to hope for is a huge campaign debt, a garage full of Richardson '08 signs, the vice presidential nomination and maybe some free drinks at the local watering hole.
Conceivably the 2008 Democrat candidates could transcend the roles they play, but this is unlikely. The Apprentice template is also used by the mainstream press as the basis for their daily reporting, so breaking from it is a losing battle. However, the mainstream media follows the template only so far as to enable their lazy reporting-they don't use it to predict the future. Thus, the media circus between now and the primaries early next year will reinforce the idea of a neck-and-neck horserace, even though the outcome is already decided. Revealing the outcome in advance would cause ratings to plummet.
Oh, by the way-Obama, you're fired.
Gregory A. Collins is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and former officer in the United States Army. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in Iraq.