Kevin Huffman draws out what politicians can learn from American Idol:
As Scott Brown stormed to victory in the Massachusetts Senate race Tuesday night, I huddled with my daughters watching Fox. No, not the gloating election coverage on Fox News — I wouldn’t do that to impressionable young minds. We watched the flagship’s “American Idol” auditions.
This seemed fitting since, four years ago, Ayla Brown, the senator-elect’s daughter, captivated my kids during a short-lived “American Idol” run (my eldest daughter cried as hard as Ayla did when she got booted from the show). Ayla was an attractive though somewhat bland singer who belted out tunes by Celine Dion and Christina Aguilera. She had a chipper attitude and a limited vocal range. In short, good for TV.
If only she had been competing against Martha Coakley. Ayla’s dad followed the same attractive, bland but hardworking formula and rocked it all the way to the Capitol.
One thing I can tell you about American elections (both political and reality-TV): Bland, attractive and hardworking is a decent strategy. If you can avoid offending, condescending and generally being annoying, if you can come off as nice and normal and sing a tune people recognize, you’ve got a shot — regardless of your musical or party affiliation.
Amazingly, my fellow Democrats manage to mess up this basic formula again and again, particularly in the Bay State. Michael Dukakis in the tank, John Kerry windsurfing, Martha Coakley on Curt Schilling — they all conveyed a fundamental disconnect from the lives of average citizens. Not that Coakley gave herself a lot of opportunities to connect: The Boston Globe reported that she clocked 19 public events during the stretch from the primaries into last weekend, while Brown had 59.
In elections, images are symbolic, and symbolism matters when it reflects a deeper truth. In Massachusetts the truth was that the Democratic candidate spent too much time with the power brokers and not enough time with the people. . . .
Just a year removed from a presidential election made historic in part by its mobilization of grass-roots efforts, Democrats have managed to slip back into the bad habit of talking up to the party bosses and down to the average folks. Voters sensed what “Idol” viewers would know: They are trying too hard impress the judges and not hard enough to connect with the audience.
Democratic strategists ought to familiarize themselves with “American Idol” history: The year Ayla Brown made her brief appearance, Chris Daughtry, the chain-wearing rock star, was the judges' favorite. But Taylor Hicks, the Elvis-covering everyman, won the people's votes and the title. Last season it came down to Adam Lambert, the critically acclaimed glam rocker, and Kris Allen, the folksy boy next door with a pleasant voice and a nice smile. Kris Allen won. See a pattern?
Play to the people, not the judges! As in American Idol, so in American politics.