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Jewish World Review Sept. 1, 2000 /1 Elul, 5760

Michael Medved

Michael Medved
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Consumer Reports

Should our next president be a 'Survivor' or a 'Millionaire'? --
WHEN VOTERS select the next president, it may come down to a fateful choice between Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and Survivor.

The two TV shows that dominated our imagination this summer offer starkly contrasting strategies for success - a contrast that parallels the battle between two presidential campaigns competing (often unsuccessfully) with such entertainment for public attention.

Millionaire and Survivor each offer a $1 million grand prize, but they bestow it for different virtues. By the same token, Al Gore and George W. Bush advance opposing claims in their pursuit of the grand prize of the presidency - so much so that, at times, they don't even seem to be playing the same game.

Millionaire honors smarts, rapid recall and the possession of arcane knowledge. Charm and charisma hardly matter if you can come up with quick answers. It's easy to imagine Gore as a formidable competitor in this arena; after all, when Bush embarrassed himself with his insecure performance on a pop quiz about world leaders, the Gore campaign helpfully announced that its guy could have answered all the questions. The vice president's staff also proudly "leaked" the results of his youthful IQ test (134). In fact, part of Gore's challenge in connecting with voters has been his obvious resemblance to the teacher's pet who repeatedly raises his hand, blurting out "I know! I know!"

Bush, on the other hand, is a Survivor kind of guy. His strengths go beyond his undeniable likeability; after all, the merely likeable contestants got voted off the island long, long before the show's final ballot. It ought to be clear by now that the Texas governor's affable demeanor masks fierce strategic and competitive instincts, as John McCain discovered. He also is a master at assembling the sort of convenient coalition that Survivor requires; amazingly, 23 Democrats in the Texas legislature endorse his GOP presidential campaign.

Just as Bush might fare poorly in providing rapid-fire responses to Millionaire's general knowledge questions, Gore probably would prove a bust at Survivor. After telling his fellow castaways that he'd invented sleeping bags and fire, or announcing that he and Tipper inspired The Swiss Family Robinson, he'd seem to be a sure bet for early exit from the island.

Given the opposite sets of strengths and weaknesses of the two major candidates, the core question remains: Which of the two TV competitions provides a better model for political success and presidential leadership?

Recent history offers potent clues. The last time a major party candidate emphasized sheer brainpower and academic breadth la Gore, he lost big time - twice. Adlai Stevenson, the Democrats' 1952 and 1956 nominee, may have been one of the most brilliant intellectuals ever to run for president, but Dwight Eisenhower beat him handily. Ike, who confessed that the populist Western writer Zane Grey was his favorite novelist, never could have matched Stevenson on a quiz show. But Americans knew that the general's winning personality gave him the rare talent to find consensus and build bridges; he kept feuding Allies together in World War II and handled the monster egos of rival generals like a true survivor.

Americans often have chosen the less intellectual, less manifestly clever candidate, as with Ike, or with Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter in 1980. The instinct to prefer skillful politicians over deep thinkers makes sense in terms of the baleful examples of brilliant presidents like Wilson, Hoover, Nixon and Carter, whose inflexibility and unbending pride in their own intelligence helped doom their administrations. The cunning, adaptability and strategic planning necessary to keep yourself on the Survivor island would seem to offer far better indications of presidential success than raw brain power or an impressive knowledge base. After all, wouldn't FDR or Reagan - or Bill Clinton, for that matter - have fared spectacularly well on any Survivor competition? In the campaign ahead, candidates won't need "immunity idols," but the one who displays the most formidable and flexible survival skills will enjoy an obvious advantage.

JWR contributor, author and film critic Michael Medved, a "survivor" of his own family with three kids, hosts a daily three-hour radio talk show broadcast in more than 120 cities throughout the United States. His latest book, written together with his wife, is Saving Childhood : Protecting Our Children from the National Assault on Innocence . He also participated as a conspicuously successful competitor on The GE College Bowl in 1968 on NBC. You may contact him by clicking here.


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05/19/00: Macho Military Makes Comeback
05/02/00: Hollywood battles addiction to addiction movies
04/18/00: Film Makes Keeping the Faith Irrelevant
04/12/00: Key lessons from 1960 for 2000 presidential campaign
03/21/00: Oscars: Will Hollywood do its duty or follow its heart?
03/03/00: Family friendly video versions would provide choice, not censorship
02/18/00: Hollywood votes for liberalism (SURPRISE!) in the Oscar nomination primary
01/26/00: Who is more "Twisted," Rocker or his heavy metal critics?
12/23/99: Media century began with unity but ends with isolation
12/15/99:The "battle in Seattle" as a '60's flashback --- only on the surface
12/01/99: Delusion and denial
11/16/99: Good reason for chaotic state of American values
11/03/99: Religion is unfairly blamed for the world's wars
10/06/99: Hollywood again makes drug use seem hip
08/25/99: NAACP attacks the wrong TV target
08/16/99: Government declares we're in a post-marriage age?

© 2000, Michael Medved