Laura Bush recently taped an episode of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." In so doing, she became the first first lady to do a prime time network "reality show." It could've been worse. She could've done odd jobs with Paris Hilton on "The Simple Life."
The show is, of course, quite admirable. Generally, they remodel homes for disadvantaged homeowners. Who could object to that noble premise? (Except, perhaps the right wing of the Republican Party who might see the idea as discouraging personal incentive.) In Mrs. Bush's episode, which will air in December, they took supplies to hurricane victims. Some people feel the first lady took the gig for political reasons. I don't know about that. However, there are more private ways of helping the victims. And if, let's say, she had invited all the wives and husbands of the members of Congress to join her, people wouldn't be so suspicious.
She is no newcomer to television. She's been on "Oprah," "Dr. Phil" and "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno." I think she's hooked on TV. She's got the bug, and that's cause for concern. I hope our first lady isn't so enamored with being on television that she'll appear on just any reality show. I don't want to see her with some creep on "Trading Spouses" or eating bugs on "Fear Factor."
But if her "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" is a ratings hit — and it will be — look for her on other shows. And more significantly, look for others in politics to follow suit, both on reality shows and regular entertainment programming.
Tom DeLay is a natural for "Law & Order: Criminal Intent." Hillary Clinton would like to avoid being on "Desperate Housewives," and would love to star in "Commander in Chief." Bill Clinton might want to go on "The Bachelor," but he might have to settle for "Starting Over." Resigned New Orleans Police Superintendent Eddie Compass could be on "I Hate My Job." If the casting people can find Dick Cheney, he'd be perfect for "Joe Millionaire." The war in Iraq could fill lots of hours of "Worst Case Scenario."
And I wouldn't mind seeing Michael "You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie" Brown on "The Apprentice" just to hear Donald Trump say, "You're fired."
The problem with the first lady and others being on entertainment television shows is that it blurs the line between what is real and what is not. And reality and perception are already too blurry in the world of politics. We're constantly wondering when are our elected officials telling the truth, and when are they just acting. I'm sure if President Bush went on "ER," and cured cancer, his popularity numbers would go up. But would that mean that he had suddenly become a better president?
Former Senator Fred Thompson is an actor on "Law & Order" these days. He keeps going from an irascible, homespun politician in real life to an irascible, homespun politician on TV. If he goes back to politics, how much of our perception of him will be affected by all those TV episodes?
While those who have chosen the political life obviously love being in the public eye, I hope that appearing on entertainment shows won't become a trend. I know it's tempting for them to get free airtime, but I hope they resist that temptation. It can easily take away from what little dignity there still is in politics. I don't want to see Condi Rice on "The Search for a Playboy Centerfold," do you?
This is a completely non-partisan issue as far as I'm concerned. So, Democrats, don't get cocky. You might think that President Bush could often play the title role in "Lost." But unless some Democrat does something significant soon, one could just as easily say that the entire Democratic Party will be "Deadwood."
Lloyd Garver also writes a weekly column for SportsLine.com. He has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.
By Lloyd Garver
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