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King Features Column

(As usual, the agreement with the syndicator means this column appears here a week after its newspaper release. This one, for instance, has had subsequent events, namely Trump's bailout, proving even he can be chagrined)


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In 1991, when we were broadcasting the bizarre Clarence Thomas hearings -- brimming with salacious charges about his past behavior -- the coarse language and juvenile silliness of the debate juxtaposed with the droning pomposity of the senators. It made for truly entertaining TV. What a hoot it was to be involved; what terrific, uh, exposure.

At one point, during a break, a panel of us inside-the-Beltway pontificators was having another of those “What does it really mean?” discussions, also pompous. One of the analysts was deploring the wall-to-wall telecast because it left such a negative impression about supposedly revered institutions, namely the Senate and the Supreme Court.

My response was that his lament was misdirected, that it wasn't the coverage but the buffoonish reality that was the problem. Generation after generation of lowest-common-denominator politics had eaten away at our grand concepts and left them too often hollowed-out jokes. The public needed to know that, and we had a responsibility to show it in all its inglory. And it has only gotten worse in the decades that followed.

Fast-forward to this year's contest for the most powerful job in the world, and now the hand-wringing about Donald Trump hosting a Republican presidential debate. “This reduces the campaign to mindless inanity” is the common cry, particularly from those who still believe real journalism is relevant. That lament is only half-accurate. This doesn't reduce anything. This year's contest is another circus, guided by a “sucker born every minute” mind-set. Substance is unwelcome. The dopier the discussion, the better.

So why shouldn't Trump run a debate? He symbolizes the entire clown act, even conning us into frenetically covering his possible entry into the fools' derby. We bit, even though we knew full well this so-called musing by “The Apprentice” TV-show host happened to coincide with the all-important ratings period.


Now that he decided not to make a go of it -- surprise, surprise -- he kept the spotlight on himself by hosting one GOP wannabe after another. They dutifully show up to grovel at The Donald's New York penthouse.

Newt Gingrich is the most recent to make the pilgrimage, but he is merely one more example of how low the bar is. Newt is a testament to the power of political nastiness. He has been Mr. Mean for decades, rising to improbable heights and then falling, only to claw back up again, combining hateful rhetoric with a self-proclaimed intellect. He loves to describe his “profound” ideas, which are just scattershot. Nobody really listens, because they are camouflaged in a smokescreen of grandiose adjectives.

His pronouncements about child labor and the work ethic of the poor are the latest examples of reckless rhetoric for dummies.

He's not the only one. We've also had a steady diet from Michele Bachmann, with her variety of goofy pronouncements, to the late Herman Cain, with his simple-minded “9-9-9” plan, to Rick Perry (Oh, where do we start with him?), to Mitt Romney and his “Corporations are people” revelation. And by the way, it's been the Republicans that are the butts of most of our jokes, simply because the Democrats don't have a primary this time around where they certainly would put on a freak show of their own.

How about the officeholders in Washington who are elected and immediately reveal how unworthy they are? They get nothing done, while millions upon millions suffer. It's another season of the same ridiculous show.

Those bizarre hearings 20 years ago left us with Justice Clarence Thomas, so qualification doesn't seem to matter. Why not, then, have Donald Trump moderate a debate?

At least he has made famous, on his other reality show, the words we can use as a guide in the next election: “You're fired.”

© 2011 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.


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