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Yes It’s True: Politics really is just a popularity contest

A Sport Magazine cover from March 1966.

When I was just a young lad, perhaps my favorite periodical was the monthly “Sport” Magazine. I enjoyed its terrific photographs and interesting stories about the sporting world, and I particularly paid attention to its annual award for the World Series MVP, bestowing it on such otherwise virtual unknowns as Larry Sherry, Johnny Podres, Lew Burdette and Bobby Richardson.

But what I remember best was an article it published predicting All-American selections in the pre-season, basing its choices not on worthiness or athletic statistics, but on press clippings. The thesis was that those who picked up the most attention and media hype would win the accolades.

After the season concluded, the writer crowed about the very high percentage of All-American selections he predicted, advancing the position that actual performance and credentials don’t mean as much as media hype when it comes to winning post-season honors.

Later in life, I began to apply that principle to politics. I noticed that most of the time the better known candidate won the race, as opposed to the perhaps better qualified opponent.

It was about 35 years ago I took notice of the mayoral race that Clint Eastwood entered for a small town in California. I found myself feeling sorry for Eastwood’s opponent, muttering to myself in my Talk Like a Pirate Day voice, “Er… He’s got no chance!”

I felt similarly for the opponent of Sonny Bono in a congressional race in California in 1994 and later for the opponent of Arnold Schwartzenegger for governor of California. This is not to mention superstar distance runner Jim Ryun in Kansas.

Nancy Kulp

There have been other instances, such as Princeton basketball star, later U.S. Senator Bill Bradley. Sometimes fame backfired, as in the case of Nancy Kulp, Miss Jane Hathaway of “The Beverly Hillbillies,” but she was roundly panned by Jed Clampett, Buddy Ebsen, and lost a congressional race in Florida.

So I began to understand that though there are exceptions, being widely known through celebrity status could be the greatest aid in getting elected, a greater aid than intelligence or capability.

It wasn’t long ago that some people were talking about Oprah Winfrey as a candidate for president on the Democratic ticket. This while the Oval Office was being occupied by someone equally well known, the host of a reality TV series. I began to ask myself if it was still true that Wayland High School senior class Student Council President Tom Tarnutzer lost to Terry Parks by telling the student body, “This is not a popularity contest.”

Sorry, Tom. It is.

One of the biggest contributors to the deterioration of our supposedly democratic system is that our elections too often are decided by who is more likeable or more well known, not by who is best qualified or more capable.

Tucker Carlson

I don’t see this troubling trend slowing down soon. Republicans already are touting Fox News TV commentator Tucker Carlson as the leading candidate to take on Joe Biden or Kamala Harris. He’s well known, good looking and has as loyal a base as what Donald J. Trump had five years ago.

Maybe the Democrats will counter with Ellen DeGeneres.

We are a nation of celebrity worshippers and the disease has gotten even worse as broadcast, on-line and print media constantly feed us stories and photos of the Royal Family, the Kardashians, LeBron James and even at the local level, Terri DeBoer and Jordan Carsen on Channel 8.

I hate to keep bring up Walt Kelly and Pogo, but “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

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