The Republic of Entertainment

Eliot Weinberger

Obama and Romney are each spending about a billion dollars to get elected – four times what Bush and Gore spent in 2000. When one adds the unregulated PACs (political action committees) and Congressional and gubernatorial races, the cost of this year’s election is around $6 billion.

The reason, of course, is television advertising. As the election draws near, some 80,000 political advertisements are running every day on American televisions. The entire ecosystem of lobbyists and politicians dependent on donations from corporate and other interests is almost entirely due to television. Eliminate the ads, which are forbidden in many countries, and American politics would change overnight.

The astonishing thing is the uselessness of this potlatch. According to Nate Silver, the genius statistician, in every one of the fifty states, the presidential candidate who was leading in June – after the Republican primaries and two months before the conventions and the debates – is leading today.

The overheated media, the pundits turned into sportscasters, the game-changing moments, the attacks and counterattacks, the yoyo-ing polls, the triumphant or devastating debate performances, economic statistics, biographical revelations and uttered banalities are purely entertainment. The numbers may change slightly, but essentially the voters made up their minds months ago. The US elections are not only dependent on television – they are television.


  • 29 October 2012 at 10:59pm
    George Hoffman says:
    I live in America, the land of the brave and the home of the free, and of course you are right. The television spectacle of American elections is just another corporate PR putsch disguised as what the mainstream media pundits and the TV talking heads call "American exceptionalism." It's sort of an absurd postmodernist version of the last days of the Weimar Republic.

  • 2 November 2012 at 5:14am
    gotnotruck says:
    I too live in America. Far from seeing this election as entertainment, I'm sweating bullets fearing what horrors await us if Romney/Ryan wins. Far from thinking "Of course you're right", I think "Of course you don't get it", why I probably will not renew my subscription to LRB. The brontosaurus in America's room isn't even mentioned. By which it should be of course, I mean "Citizens United", which enabled the hugely excessive spending on ads far beyond any previously, by anonymous groups for the candidates of their choice. If you had access to Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" and Stephen Colbert's "Colbert Rapport", you'd have seen what a joke they made of it, a hilarious civics lesson on the new rules given us by a cynical Supreme Court. They hired the lawyer who worked for Bush in Bush V Gore to set up a Super Pac for Stephen, who was "running for president" again. Jon set up and managed the PAC , while Stephen was in the room watching the proceedings. But he wasn't allowed direct contact with Stephen. Which meant they didn't speak while the signing took place. The Super Pac was fact. Stephen asked for donations, which came in to the tune of a million bucks. As I recall, Stephen, who often plays conservative, while mocking them, donated it to Obama. The LRB called Obama A Bad President. I wondered if there's been a president they liked. I like his trying to close Guantanamo, like Obamacare, worth a year, something presidents have been trying to accomplish for years. I liked his signing the LIly Ledbetter Act for equal pay for women. Like his coming out for LGBT marriage. Alienating many blacks and latinos. Republicans focused on defeating him before his inauguration. Would make healthcare his Waterloo. He succeeded. He put money into green energy, for which he was mocked by Rs, including Romney in his first two incarnations. I could go on. I hate drones. But along with cyberwarfare, they're here to stay. in Britain as well. Google them on The Guardian. Drones and special ops. Somehow it seems wrong for The Economist to endorse Obama. How would Brits feel if The New York Times, (which Bob Woodward called "the best paper in the world" to a poker faced Guardian reporter), endorsed Ed Millbrand for PM. Or Hollande for whatever his office is in France. "One nation, over God," as "The Onions' Guide to Our Dumb Planet" described that lovely country, where unlike the UK, people say what they mean, instead of insulting you by being polite, or vice versa. Does anyone know? The motto for US is "Land of Opportunism." Adorned with a picture the obligatory burger chain. England: "A Nation of Industrious homosexuals." One town by a star, "Entire populace fucked by Mick Jagger."

    Anyone who's not part of the .001% and votes for Romney/Ryan is either ill informed or deluded. Republicans have been trying to rid of us all social programs ever since Democrats invented them. Did you see the one unhappy black face at the Republican Convention, if you watched it. You watched what the BBC saw. Today it asked why no one mentioned Climate Change. Only Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Governor of N.J. Chris Christie, now in love with Obama. And an editorial in The New York Times, plus letters, and a farmer friend in Ashe Co, NC, who said of course there's climate change. Not a yuppy locavore farmer, a mountain man. I feel like Sisyphus. One thing I learned this week from a cab driver was why the UK was so hesitant to go into Iraq, aside from your obvious moral superiority. A British woman put the place together, a toxic brew of Kurds, Sunni and Shiites. Almost as brilliant as Belgium putting Tutsi and Hutu into one country. What's so great about countries. Name one nation state. When I suggest to Africans they go back to tribes, they usually agree. They also often know, along with Bangladeshis, that the main cause of Climate Change is overpopulation. We must halve our numbers. It must become macho to have one child, adopt another starving on a street, usually a girl. Have one child and two grandchildren. Most laugh when I say that. A strange laugh, slightly insane. We're Homo Sapiens. We think.But we are incapable of behaving rationally. We're killing the planet, and that includes our toxic species. As poet Robinson Jeffers said after WW2, "Who knew so little would be too much." And he on wild Big Sur.

    • 3 November 2012 at 2:03pm
      rupert moloch says: @ gotnotruck
      Nonsense. You may feel like Sisyphus, but you have all the wisdom of Midas. "We must halve our numbers"... Not unless that plural pronoun refers specifically to your own countrymen! The problem is the rate at which citizens of developed nations consume the whole planet's resources. Accordingly, some of us would happily dispense with you altogether.

  • 3 November 2012 at 11:25pm
    sonidosis says:
    I would like to think that the circumstances leading to the 2003 war, which seem to flow toward an understanding without resistance, has breezed the moldy axiom that generally comes to mind when we think of power structure. I’m almost tempted to believe it. And maybe indifference, the traditional ironic force putting involvement in motion, will be finally substituted.