It’s a phenomenon that Bill Clinton perfected with his 1992 saxaphone-playin’ performance on Arsenio Hall: presidential-candidate-as-cool-TV-talk-show-guest. The goal? All you need is a musical instrument or some witty repartee and your likeability quotient will propel you into the White House. It worked for Bubba. Trailing in the polls, many believe his rendition of “Heartbreak Hotel” was the turning point in his campaign. Since then, every major candidate has bantered with the likes of Jay Leno, David Letterman, Oprah and has “chilled” with the MTV crowd. Some more successfully than others.
Ever since the infamous 1960 presidential debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon we’ve learned that a candidate’s telegenic appeal can mean the difference between winning and losing. Those seeking the nation’s top job are now regularly paraded before the cameras like the Flying Wallendas on a political tightrope. The pressure to be funny and appealing is immense. As Sen. John Kerry deftly demonstrated in 2004, not everyone is up for the task.
With the 2008 race heating up, let’s look at some of the top candidates on both sides of the aisle. Take Sen. John McCain, for example, who’ll be appearing on Thursday’s Letterman show. Here’s a guy whose presidential aspirations are larger than life, yet he’s as stiff as a board. So stiff in fact that his upper lip refuses to move, making him appear like his own ventriloquist dummy. When he speaks, all that’s missing is the string in the back of his head and someone pulling it. So does appearing with Dave make McCain any more appealing? To me, he could dance with Shakira and it wouldn’t change a thing.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is another story. An engaging chap, he’s usually full of humorous anecdotes and a big toothy grin. He’s charming and witty, and, both his lips move, which is a real asset when up against McCain. The camera loves him.
On the left, Sen. Barack Omaba is a bonafide rock star. In some circles, put him on a talk show and he can make you forget Shakira. Now that’s star power. He will only benefit tremendously by appearing on these shows. And I predict he will do as many of them as he can, possibly ruling out only Jerry Springer and Talk Sex with Sue Johanson.
Former Sen. John Edwards is generally a very entertaining, likeable guest, but so is Ashton Kutcher…and neither of them in my opinion is going to become president.
The oh-so-coy, I’m- not-running Al Gore stands to gain tremendously by his continued appearances all over the tube. Long lambasted as a wonkish bore, Gore’s shown an incredible sense of humor and a general ease before the camera. When (not if) he announces he’s running (likely in September), look for him to be everywhere…even on Springer and Sue Johanson. That’s right…Talk Sex with Al Gore. Now what would be cooler than that?
That brings us to the Big Kahuna, Sen. Hillary Clinton. With her hard-as-stone, polarizing reputation, she could score home run after home run on the talk show circuit, as she often comes off girly and giggly at the same time she’s brilliant and presidential.
Lastly, what about our current president, George W. Bush? Well, by law he can’t run again, so we won’t be seeing him on any talk shows in the near future. But if he could run again, Letterman’s “Stupid Human Tricks” would be the perfect segment.