Ready or Not

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This is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore watching television for KCRW and coming to terms with a TV series that's back on the air, its run guaranteed, through November 2008.

The nation's way-too-soon, way-too-long campaign show began in earnest, if that's the proper word, the past couple of weeks with MSNBC airing debates by the Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls.

Now I know I shouldn't whine that it's already starting. According to pollsters, President Bush, "the uniter," has united Americans in relief that he'll be leaving the White House in the not-so-distant future. So this presidential race serves as a constant reminder of that reassuring fact.

Except we've still got 623 days, 17 hours, and, oh, about 19 minutes before Inauguration Day 2009. So what's to be gained by throwing ourselves into this campaign process quite so early?

In an effort to find out, I watched both debates. On April 26, eight Democrats convened in South Carolina. Then last Thursday, 10 Republicans stood in the shadow of a huge, shiny Air Force One jet at the Reagan Presidential Library in California.

The Democrats spent a lot of time beating up on President Bush.

The Republicans spent a lot of time pretending President Bush simply doesn't exist, while they spent lots MORE time glorifying President Reagan.

Eighteen candidates in all! And now that I've seen them, and heard their one-minute sound-bite answers, I gotta wonder: Where do you go the next 18 months?

I find myself thinking how the studios run previews for an upcoming movie months before they release it. I mean, how many times did you see the trailer for Ocean's 13 where George Clooney says, "Are you ready?" and Andy Garcia replies, "I was born ready," and Clooney rolls his eyes?

Ocean's 13 won't open until June. But after all the promos, I already feel like I've seen it!

And that's sort of how I feel even after just these first two debates. On the long campaign trail, will we be hearing the same pledges, catch phrases, platitudes, evasions -- as if this were the campaign for a movie that should go straight to video?

Of course, with crack political journalists helping shape the campaign narrative, we can count on plenty of reports about the candidates' fund-raising success (or lack of it), their polling, their gaffes, and, of course, probing analysis of each candidate's STYLE.

On last week's Chris Matthews Show, we saw a 13-second debate clip of Hillary Clinton. Then Matthews got straight to the heart of the matter when he asked his panelists, "Did she have the right modulation, was she calm and grown-up? Or was there a little bit of stridency in the voice, still?"

I wonder if you remember a presidential debate back in December 2005? During that live TV face-off, which was staged for the NBC drama The West Wing, make-believe Republican candidate Arnold Vinick surprised his equally fictitious Democratic rival Matt Santos by proposing their carefully negotiated rules of engagement be thrown out, so they could have an honest, freewheeling discussion.

And they DID!

Sure, it was pretend. But it was real-er than most of what we're likely to see from the current crop of bona fide candidates.

I do wish we could wait a little longer for the campaign to start. But am I ready for a more substantial show this campaign season? I was born ready!

Watching television for KCRW, this is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore.