Friday, June 15, 2007

Somebody is listening - American Idol idea catches on

As many of you know, I offered some thoughts on this blog several weeks ago about doing Presidential searches (or primaries) "American Idol" style. Here is the first column and the follow-up the next week on others who have had a similar idea. I've literally received hundreds of e-mails and telephone calls about the idea. I even had an e-mail from a student in New Zeland about my blog entry.

Well, add Tony Messenger, editorial page editor at the Springfield News-Leader to the list of those thinking about this same idea. His column, "Civilized dialogue on American Idol style television not a bad idea" appeared in print on June 10, 2007.

He writes:
But I thought of this year's American Idol and wondered, what if we combined our terribly inefficient primary and caucus system in which candidates spend literally millions of dollars trying to appease a few voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, and instead we brought the candidates on a stage together, and over a period of weeks, we let America vote?

Robin Carnahan (Missouri Secretary of State) knows the suggestion is riddled with pitfalls, but this is how big ideas begin, she believes. People talk about the possibilities and see where they might lead.

Frankly, our America needs more of that.

It needs more people of both parties willing to throw out big ideas and talk about them and mold them into successes before they are shot down by partisan sniping. ...

Imagine the gaggle of candidates we have running for president right now, all on the same stage, all having to give answers to questions in given topics, week after week. And after their answers are analyzed by a panel of experts — former statesmen, perhaps, sprinkled in with a journalist or two — America votes. Surely in our complicated technical world, we can devise a system to allow only registered voters access to the system. One vote per person per week. And like American Idol, the calls can even cost some minimal amount, and the money can go to charity, or perhaps to the public financing of the final two candidates.

Each week, a Chris Dodd or Sam Brownback falls to the wayside, and the suspense builds.

It would be great television.

It might even be great Democracy. ...

On an even more serious note, maybe the News-Leader and University of Missouri Extension's civic communications specialist in southwest Missouri (me) could work on this type of contest on a more local level. Perhaps we could partner with KSMU radio and KOZK (PBS-TV), do debates for the Mayor of Springfield or other local races, and have viewers call in votes.

I'd be happy to help in anyway I can. I like the idea but I can't make it happen by myself. However, I don't think government can force the idea.

Political parties or political subdivisions can try and force the idea but I'm not sure it will take off that way. We could even try call in votes as an "extra feature" to traditional debates and school board election might be a good time to experiment with it.

However, I don't think the idea will take off locally, regionally or nationally until a candidate is able to harness the popularity something like this promises. It will take a break through by one person to change the tide. Otherwise, candidates will continue to do what their political advisors suggest ... and what they suggest are the traditional methods of campaigning and primaries.

I really think Missouri could be ripe for a populist type of candidate but the problem is that there is not just one statewide media that could provide the statewide type of exposure that a viable candidate would need.

Another problem is that a winner of a competition like this would not have to be accepted by either of the political parties. That is what happened to the winner of the Showtime show "The Candidate." The leadership of the political party in his state said "thanks, but no thanks, we already have a candidate we are backing, and you are not him."


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