More than 60 million people in America voted in the “American Idol” final — more than in any U.S. presidential election. Rather than be disappointed about our priorities, Washington insiders can learn something from the Idol competition — because we’ll choose our next president using the same kind of criteria. As “Idol” judge Simon Cowell says, we’re all looking for the “X factor.”
So, who’s “got it” and who doesn’t?
We can begin by ruling out some folks — candidates definitely not “going to Hollywood”: Al Gore, John Kerry, Howard Dean and Joe Biden.
The word is boring, painfully boring. By the way, if you dispute the thesis, look at what happened to Mr. Dean after his primal howl during the last election run-up: no one has taken him seriously since. In short,as Simon says, Mr. Dean has already “bought his ticket home.” Hey, this is showbiz — it’s tough to make it out there.
Mr. Kerry’s tedious “performances” during the last election reveal him to be a stiff and pompous “twit,” as Simon might say. Remember the bent-back kiss for Tipper? Mr. Gore’s “act,” of course, is to take credit for things like the Internet and global warming so outrageously even loyal Democrats wish he would go away. He will.
Keeping with the American Idol analogy, Mr. Biden is one of those acts that “wears on you”: The more exposure he gets, the more he takes himself out of serious contention. Definitely no X factor and totally unaware of it — as are the others in this group of four. What these guys really lack is a believable sense of humor.
Speaking of humor, the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton needs some coaching from David Letterman or she won’t win a national election. Why? Look at the most popular president in recent history — Ronald Reagan — to see why good humor is such an important part of the presidential X factor. In fact, a genuine sense of humor was really all that separated “W” and Al Gore in 2000 — and George W. Bush, who is very confident about who he is, knows not to take himself too seriously. He uses his good humor to great advantage — as did Bill Clinton until things were no longer fun for him around the White House.
Many don’t see Bill Frist as able to make folks laugh — even if he tells nonstop doctor jokes — and John McCain takes himself way too seriously, even though he may end up as the Republican front-runner. If it is John McCain against Hillary Clinton, there will be no advantage for either in the good humor department — and it will be a very dull race indeed.
We can have too much silliness, of course, and solid candidates like Joe Lieberman and Newt Gingrich have to be careful not to make a joke about everything in Washington, even if it’s easy for them. But if they are the candidates, it will be a good-spirited and very entertaining campaign — so good many would wish to elect both — because Americans usually vote for people they like.
In this regard, there is that nice Southern boy, John Edwards. Ironically, if he were a Republican he would have a great chance at the nomination and even to win the election. He would be respectful to Hillary in the debates, he would be charming, humble and thoughtful; in short, he would be practically unbeatable — but only as a Republican. But can he get the Democratic nomination? Not a chance — because he’s a nice Southern boy — and the Democrat’s last president was a nice Southern boy who sold them out on a number of key issues.
By the way, if the Democrats nominate Hillary — and if she is elected — she will probably do the same thing, plus bring Bill back as her secretary of state — or maybe even as attorney general. Talk about payback. And, of course, there’s Wes Clark — the affable former general and nice Southern boy — who is not taken seriously here because he is really running for vice president on Hillary’s ticket. Why? Because he knows (as does Colin Powell) that — to be president — Hillary probably needs a military man as her VP.
How about that nice New England boy, Mitt Romney? Again, ironically, he could probably win it all as a Democrat, but because he’s from Massachusetts, Republican “heartlanders” won’t trust him — let alone vote for him. Not only that, he probably couldn’t win his home state in a presidential election, especially with both Ted Kennedy and John Kerry campaigning hard against him, as you know they would.
Speaking of potential future Secretary of State Bill Clinton, what about current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as the Republican candidate? Probably not: Like Madeleine Albright, her Democratic predecessor, Condi will most likely return to academic life, where the weather is nice. Who could blame her?
However, I might be wrong on this — and, as Dick Morris has already predicted — it could be Hillary against Condi in 2008. And wouldn’t that be a doozy? A Condi-Hillary race would be a huge TV hit, because everyone would tune in for the catfights. And, however “un-PC” that characterization would be in PC Washington D.C., it would great for ratings — bigger than the “Idol” and “Survivor” combined.
But wait folks, there’s more: Almost as entertaining could be a Rudolph Giuliani- Hillary Clinton race with its sharp-edged New York political humor.
And don’t rule out the rise of Jeb Bush on a groundswell of South Florida Latino support — then, of course, it would be the “Clinton-Bush Dynasty battle of ‘08.” Wow. Finally, how about “The Donald,” and the well-timed “you’re fired” to his unlucky opponent, whoever that might be?
Kind of makes you wonder if any of them can sing.
Daniel Gallington is a senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.