Politicians avoid “the issues” on late-night TV

Published Oct. 23, 2015, 5:50 p.m. - 186 views


As we creep ever closer to the next election season, it’s once again time for the candidates to rev the engines of their Campaign Machines. For many, it seems like we just finished our last set of elections. All the same, it is time for more political ads, debates and, as has become the new norm, appearances by the candidates on comedy shows. More and more, we see Presidential candidates on television programs such as “The Daily Show,” “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.” 
Shows like these have become  common publicity stops for most serious presidential candidates, with many making appearances even after they’ve been elected. The candidates talk about a variety of issues on camera, from the hot button topics of the present campaign cycle to lighthearted issues (like Obama wearing jeans), and some even take part in skits written for the shows (such as Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, acting as themselves). 
The fact that we are seeing politicians on comedy shows raises several questions, the first of which is, why? Why bother showing up to a late night talk show, only to perform in a three minute skit in which you mock yourself alongside the host? The answer is very simple – it’s all about image. 
Candidates need to be seen as not only down-to-earth, everyday citizens, but must also paint themselves as capable of taking criticism and even laughing at themselves from time to time. They want voters to see them as someone they might relate to, and a late night talk show provides an opportunity for the politician to be seen in a different light, particularly as compared to the normal interviews or town-hall meetings. 
Unfortunately, many use these opportunities to focus solely on shaping their public profile rather than on discussing the issues of the election-at-hand. I can understand that they get tired of answering questions from reporters who are trying to trip them up, looking for the next good sound-byte to report on, but I would rather see the appearances on late night talk shows and comedy shows used as a forum to present the candidates’ stances on various issues to an audience that might not hear them otherwise. 
I am certain there are people in this country who would much rather watch Jimmy Fallon talk for an hour than listen to a 20 minute interview of a presidential candidate. I know this, because there are days when I am one of those people. We’ve all been there. 
So when someone like Donald Trump is a guest on Jimmy Fallon’s talk show, it might be his one chance to reach out to that particular demographic and give them a quick synopsis on who he is and where he stands on the issues. That’s why I feel as though just about every candidate that makes an appearance on these types of shows misses his or her opportunity to push the conversation forward. Instead, they waste the precious few minutes they have performing in skits and laughing at themselves. 
While it is nice to see that even politicians can be human beings, we must hold those in power to a higher standard. Part of this standard includes taking every public appearance seriously, so that more people the positions of their lected officials. Education and knowledge are key components of democracy. 
Without being informed on the current issues and our elected officials stances on those issues, how can we hold them accountable? If we fail in this duty as citizens, we give them the power to act in their own interests and thus create the beginnings of an oligarchy. We don’t need to be experts on everything, but we need to be able to make an informed decision when electing representatives to Congress and the Presidency.


Last Updated 10/23/2015

About the Author

Jacob Vincent, class of 2017 is a Mathematics major.

vincentj@stolaf.edu

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