A review of 2012 found reality television continuing to consume the medium like typhoid. Or, more appropriately, like mononucleosis ravaging a freshman dorm.
You might call it all flotsam — but I’m here to report that one reality show truly proved instructive. I speak of “The Really Biggest Loser.”
Not to be confused with the show about how obese people sweat their cares away, “The Really Biggest Loser” featured a short stack of fat cats who spent millions on an election. To their astonishment, they found that they couldn’t buy America.
Not you, Sheldon Adelson. Not you, Harold Simmons. You neither, Bob Perry. Nor you, Bill Koch, or David Koch, or Charles Koch.
In our system, we’re told that everything has a price, even the American system itself. These contestants set out to prove it.
Each competed valiantly. They shed dollars, not by the bucket but by the tanker truck — and they lost.
They did, however, provide America with first-rate television, or a least the part of America in all those battleground states Mitt Romney lost — billions of dollars worth of attack ads, so well-spun, so gripping, so futile.
Karl Rove didn’t spend his own money, but he has to be considered in his own category. His super PAC American Crossroads spent $300 million to buy America, and it got? Squat.
The lineup for “The Really Biggest Loser,” was set early in the game. USA Today reported last February that 25 percent of the super PAC money amassed to influence the 2012 elections came from five individuals. All were Republican.
At the time, No. 1 was Simmons, the Dallas billionaire who had donated $12 million to Rove’s group. Back in 2004 it was Simmons who spent $3 million to get the claims of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth before the public in a bid to torpedo the presidential run of John Kerry.
Bob Perry, the Houston homebuilder and another “Swift Boat” bankroller, was listed as No. 3 of the super PAC super donors by USA Today.
It is entirely understandable that these individuals figured they could buy America. After all, Simmons and Perry pretty much have had Texas tied in a shiny red bow for those they’ve supported over the last 18 years. Rick Perry owes builder Perry (no relation) a lot for last-second bundles that set him on his governor-for-life path, give or take a presidential dalliance or two.
So, in 2012, all of these big guns had a bead on Barack Obama, and what did his campaign have?
It had its own deep-pocket donors like labor unions and movie mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg. But here’s the odd thing: As Time magazine reported in naming Obama its Person of the Year, the president’s campaign did a stunning job of raising money in small increments. That’s right — $690 million of Obama’s $1 billion in donations came not in drawing rooms, ski chalets or boardrooms but online.
“In a campaign that super PACs were supposed to dominate, Obama’s operation proved that many small efforts were more powerful than a few big ones. No one in either party thinks campaign finance will ever be the same.”
So, who is “The Really Biggest Loser”? That’s actually an easy call.
Not only did Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino owner, rank No. 1 in donating $34.2 million to Romney and supportive groups according to Politico, he gave $10 million to the PAC that bankrolled Newt Gingrich in the primaries.
Adelson’s money allowed Gingrich to float a host of attacks on Romney, including the line of questioning about the activities of Bain Capital, something that Democrats would employ.
In roulette terms, Adelson let it ride on the wrong number, and then tried to win it all back with house money.
Yes, Mr. Adelson, you are “The Really Biggest Loser.” Winner? The American political system.
Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.