antonia williams-gary.pngOne of the largest traveling three-ring circuses recently came to us on a television cable channel previously known for bringing you the best news in the world.

That’s right. CNN organized a “big tent” event featuring eight of the most fascinating attractions in the world: the eight great wonders of the Republican Party who are competing for the nomination for president of the United States of America.

I tuned in late and when my pre-programmed channel selector clicked on the setting for CNN, there was a brief moment when I thought the electronic channel changer had malfunctioned; sometimes they do not work properly.

Could this really be?  After all, there was the option to watch sports, movies, games, other talker/pundits, home decorating, food, etc.  I could get real, commercially supported, televised entertainment watching any of those.

But I opted for what I thought would bring enlightenment.

Umm, let’s see:  Entertainment.  Enlightenment.  Entertainment.  Enlightenment.

I know.  I know.  I had a choice: Change the channel. But not really.  Ever pass by a train wreck and not look? 

So, there in center ring, was Wolf Blitzer, as ringmaster, with his short whip of questions in hand, a selected national audience of Tea Partiers — the paying audience — the “acts,” and the television audience —the test market.

Oh, and then there were the “pundits.” This second ring, of opinion-shapers, were ready to deliver their live comments, charts, instant analysis and conclusions about the performance of each of the acts, in case you, the viewer, was unable to draw your own conclusions.

The third ring included the handlers and wranglers of the candidates and, of course, their wives, husbands, mothers and fathers and children — you know, the costumes, makeup and various other props to make them more “attractive.”

“Ladies and gentleman, girls and boys, cats and dogs, pigs and hogs……..” began a great old running joke about how easily we are manipulated by circus-like hype: bright lights, trumpeting sound, multiple moving people/animals, high wiring and low wrestling.

P.T. Barnum became famous for his circus productions but he is also memorable for a mis-attributed statement that “a sucker is born every minute.” Whether he or a competitor made the statement is not at issue here; it is just an apt description of how humans behave. 

Television billboards and announcements led me to believe that this was to be a political debate.  Silly me. I thought I was going to hear a clear, concise message from the candidates that would provide me a choice.

Instead, it deteriorated into a trash-throwing, trash-talking playground-tussling match between the two  “leading” candidates — help us if either becomes the nominee — an opportunist who saw openings whenever the leading two were on the ground, who kicked dirt in their faces, one washed-up former “leader,” a comedian, a sourpuss and two on the sidelines.

There was no substance.  There were no compelling arguments to cause me to consider changing leaders. There was also nothing from the Republican Party that would make a credible headline.  There was only spectacle.

Yes, all of these elements were present at that debate — a wonderfully staged distraction from what daily affects you and me.

There were no references to the great economic divide — the “haves” versus the have-nots (oh, wait, there was a distraction about illegal immigrants); no mention of illiteracy; the need for jobs got only a nod; disproportionate imprisonment — not a word; homelessness or mental health.

Wait, wait.  I know.  This was just the first round and I must be patient. The next event is already planned. The acts are being better trained/prepared in anticipation of the viewers’ satisfaction from this first round.

Spectacle. That is what has become of the presidential election process and it has left a bitter taste in my mouth, like days-old cotton candy, stale popcorn and burnt peanuts.

Just like when the circus came to town.

Antonia Williams-Gary is a consultant with Miami-based Savings and Grace Enterprise. She may be reached at toniwg@bellsouth.net

Photo: Antonia Williams-Gary