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The Presidential Race Should Be An Olympic-Style Event

Fireworks over Olympic Stadium during the Opening Ceremony Saturday, in London (AP)

Most people seem inspired by the Olympics, but depressed by the presidential contest. To boost voter interest, what if we turned the presidential race into an Olympic-style event?

Pageantry. Viewing the Olympics, writer Jason Hefter said: “Obvious fire risks aside, I think torches should be carried at the beginning of everything.” Indeed, imagine if the presidential race were officially ignited, not merely announced. Torches would be lit by candidates at kickoff rallies, and torch-bearers would begin a journey across the country. But they’d only go through swing states. When traveling through non-swing states, the torch-bearers would extinguish the fire out of respect to voters ignored by the campaigns.

Candidate costumes. As you noticed in the Olympics’ parade of nations, people express themselves best through apparel. If all athletes wore business attire, no one would feel inspired to sing, “We are the world,” because the world would seem too dull and drab.

Presidential nominees should be required to wear a special candidate costume. That way we’d know when a president was making a campaign speech, rather than a policy speech — he’d change out of his business suit into, say, a “Star Trek”-style outfit. That would help demonstrate that he was a visionary and leader of the free world. However, if a challenger like Mitt Romney preferred to wear an outfit that was more “man of the people”-style — he might prefer creased blue jeans and plaid lumberjack shirt — that would be fine too.

Two weeks of coverage. To keep voters interested, we can’t have a four-year campaign. That’s deadly for ratings. To everything there is a season — after that, it’s reruns. A two-week race would be adequate if TV networks had Olympic-style coverage. Surely they could produce sob stories about the candidates that would make us care about them.

Debate as a sport. The skills of ducking, dodging and lying are acquired by candidates only after a lot of training. Yet some view debate, like golf, as a game rather than a sport. That is so unfair. We should ratchet up the excitement of debates by injecting more sportsmanship. What if the Commission on Presidential Debates added a rule that whenever a candidate attacked an opponent’s character he must sling mud at him, using a slingshot? This would help voters better recognize and enjoy the insults. After all, sometimes the insults are too subtle for people who fast-forward through recorded news and TV spots. And if voters don’t like the mudslinging — perhaps because a candidate has poor aim — they could consider that when they decide whether to vote.

Score-keeping. Debates are not just entertainment; they are a lot less than that. They are an opportunity for famous media panelists to show off their ability to stifle debate with pompous questions. But if we’re going to be serious about staging a presidential race that is as TV-worthy as the Olympics, we need panelists to be like judges for gymnastics. After each candidate delivers an answer, the panelists should hold up a scorecard ranking that performance on difficulty, execution and evasion. Since most TV news personalities are suspected of bias, the judges should only be from America’s most trusted media: Animal Planet, SyFy and Food Network.

Awards ceremony. According to opinion polls and Jay Leno, a lot of people can’t name their public officials. That is understandable, because there is no awards ceremony after the election. By the time the inauguration comes around, 10 weeks later, many voters have forgotten the name of the losing candidate and are eager to forget the name of the guy who won. But imagine, instead, if on the night of the election all the presidential and vice-presidential candidates were on a stage together…

The winning presidential candidate would be on the highest level, ready to receive a gold medal. The winning VP would be on a slightly lower level, as a silver medalist. The losing presidential candidate would be at the bottom, graciously waiting for the bronze. And the losing VP candidate would get the honor of putting the medals around the necks of the other three. For example, in 2008 it would have been Sarah Palin putting medals on the necks of Barack Obama, Joe Biden and John McCain (in case you forgot the names). Wouldn’t that have been a great TV moment? And of course, they would have had lapel microphones so we could have heard Palin whisper to the president-elect, “Good luck with that hopey-changey thing.”

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