Caricatures by DonkeyHotey with Flickr Creative Commons License
By Barry Rascovar
What’s happening to American politics? Has it turned into Theater of the Absurd?
Donald Trump – a philandering, controversial billionaire developer who relishes slinging insults faster than Don Rickles – leads in Republican polls.
Ben Carson – the world-famous retired Hopkins pediatric neurosurgeon who can’t help creating firestorms with his incendiary, politically incorrect comments – is running a close second.
Bernie Sanders – a socialist U.S. senator from tiny Vermont who thinks he can wave a magic wand and re-create America as an ultra-liberal nation – is fast gaining on the Democratic front-runner.
Meanwhile, the sane candidates can’t gain traction. They keep being pulled further and further from the center where most voters reside.
That’s the scene in Political America in early fall 2015, more than a year away from the real election.
You wouldn’t know that, though, thanks to the media’s insatiable appetite for sensationalism and horse-race journalism featuring a new poll practically every day, distorting the true picture on the ground.
People are tired of the political status quo, the endless promises that never come to pass, the gridlock in Washington, the bitter partisanship, the self-aggrandizement, the failure to handle issues that affect families.
Suddenly, a new breed of pseudo presidential candidates has appeared on the scene, tailor-made for Reality TV.
Their facts-be-damned, messianic messages are straight out of central casting – and straight out of a screenplay that riveted movie viewers almost 40 years ago.
“Network,” written by Paddy Chayefsky, tells the story of an upstart television network on the verge of bankruptcy that, out of desperation, lets its news anchor, Howard Beale, vent his spleen with wild rants on the air to boost ratings.
“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore,” says the “mad prophet of the airwaves” repeatedly.
Viewers love it. Ratings soar. The more invective he spews, the more popular Beale becomes.
Sound familiar? It’s precisely the tactic Trump, Carson, Sanders and many others (especially on the Republican side) are employing these days.
They’re mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore!
People are fed up with present-day politics and many are reacting emotionally when they hear blunt-speaking candidates insult one another and promise simple-sounding but extreme steps to solve the nation’s problems.
In “Network,” the public eventually tires of Beale’s rants and ratings sink – until the entertainment division steps in and turns Beale’s news show into reality-laden extravaganzas. Sort of like the Republican presidential debates on Fox and CNN.
In the movie, the joke’s on viewers. In today’s politics, the joke’s on the voting public.
In “Network,” things spin out of control to the point that Beale is assassinated on the air by a far-left group of radicals – all planned by the TV network to bump ratings once more through the roof.
Will the presidential race spin out of control, too, with terrible, unanticipated results?
In “Network,” the movie ends with the narrator intoning: “This was the story of Howard Beale, the first known instance of a man who was killed because of lousy ratings.”
Will we elect our next president based on who says the most outrageous things? Who proves most entertaining and most outrageously insulting, who draws the highest ratings for the networks?
Politics is imitating art. Paddy Chayefesky’s Oscar-winning screenplay seemed far-fetched at the time it was produced.
That’s no longer true.
Timothy W. Maier is the founder of Baltimore Post-Examiner LLC, which runs the Baltimore and Los Angles Post-Examiner websites. He started out writing music, fiction and poetry and then turned to news writing where he spent the past three decades at news organizations in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington, D.C. More recently he was the managing editor at the Baltimore Examiner. He now spends time with his family, dogs, and guitar.