by Hardball guest host Michael Smerconish
I interviewed Jim Lehrer on my radio program recently. He just released a book called “Tension City,” highlighting his having moderated 11 presidential and vice presidential debates.
Lehrer's a quality journalist. It's no wonder he would be asked to repeat that role so often.
Today, however, it was announced that Donald Trump will moderate an upcoming GOP debate. The juxtaposition of Lehrer and Trump is illustrative of what this process has become. It's a reality show.
The stakes for the country could not be higher. We're still at war in two countries. The debt is $14 trillion and rising. The divide between rich and poor has never been so large. And unemployment may have just dropped, but it remains too high at 8.6 %.
Against this backdrop, the GOP race has been very fluid. While Romney and Paul's numbers have been steady, the others have seen great shifts in their popularity.
Is that because of a public evaluation of policy differences on issues like war and taxes?
Heck no. Frankly, the race thus far has not been defined by substance. It has been notable for sound bites. And there have been plenty.
Praying away the gay, Tiffany bills, a hunting camp named for a slur and an economic proposal dumbed down to sound like the price of a pizza.
There have been a record number of debates but with answers to complex problems limited to 60 seconds, no substance has made news. The debate headlines have been generated by crowd reaction, like when a soldier got booed, or someone suggested an ER patient with no insurance should be left to die.
So maybe its fitting that the type of job once reserved for the likes of a Jim Lehrer has now been offered to Donald Trump. No word yet whether he'll entertain questions for the candidates from Meat Loaf or Gary Busey. And let’s not forget, he's the guy that started the birthed controversy.
But it’s a sad commentary on how sophomoric this process has become. A guy who plays the media every four years with his own alleged ambition of running for office is handed the power to shape the debate that pick the next leader of the free world.
The only thing more demeaning would be to let them all compete on dancing with the stars.