Do We Even Want Choices Anymore?

When my best friend was exploring options for where to take their soon-to-be 91-year-old grandmother for a New Year’s Day brunch, they were handicapped by the fact that the nearest and what they saw as the most fiscally responsible option that was open was a Burger King.  When I heard that was under consideration, I blew a gasket.  Anyone who makes it to nearly 91 in reasonably good health should not have to begin their year at a place that proudly serves drek like this.

So I loaned my bestie a few bucks so that they could afford both the cost of and the drive to a casino with a decent restaurant and some far healthier choices.  Sure, it could be argued that the mere idea of me spending dime one on anyone else but myself these days is abhorrent, particularly among people who pass judgement on every single decision I’ve been making of late, most of which they consider foolhardy and self-destructive.  I would only offer these doubting “Thomases” that if I had still had the option to buy any older relative of mine a meal these days, I would have readily embraced it.  It’s a choice I made, and I’ll stand by it till the day I die.  And since I, too, eschew Burger King at all costs these days, there’s a far better chance that inevitability is a long way off.

It seems more obvious than ever of late that, as a society, we’re increasingly resistant to even the thought of making a choice.  Politically, that’s more apparent than ever, especially in the wake of the news that came down yesterday that the man who came in second–admittedly at far distance– in last week’s Iowa Republican caucuses, Ron DeSantis, was suspending his run for the 2024 Presidential nomination.  There’s not much I admire or like about DeSantis, and apparently a great deal of potential voters in states such as South Carolina and Nevada, the next stops on the trail after tomorrow’s New Hampshire primary, feel the same way.  But I did like what he had the courage to say in his concession X-eet:

“I am today suspending my campaign,” DeSantis said in a video posted on social media. “It’s clear to me that a majority of Republican primary voters want to give Donald Trump another chance.”

I am fairly certain that anyone who was supportive of DeSantis would vehemently argue that point.  I’m a bit less certain, but nevertheless confident, that they’re more likely to share the attitude of my current roommate, who contends that the election process is strictly a “binary system”.  And with DeSantis now licking his wounds in the pious hopes he becomes more viable down the road, because who knows if indeed there will be a 2028 election, those choices are now down to a couple of 75-plus white men with occasional lapses in memory and speech, inflated views of their actual accomplishments in their respective presidencies and a strong desire to not have anyone at all stand in their way toward a rematch which the one lone wolf still attempting to challenge either of them observes that 70 per cent of Americans don’t want to see.

Joe Biden and his party don’t get a hall pass when they are guilty of the same kind of infantile gamesmanship and chiding that they consistently accuse Fat Orange Jesus and his far cannier but even more juvenile advisors of exhibiting.  Witness the sh-tshow that went down when a previous Republican contender suspended his candidacy last week which the Left Angeles TIMES’ Mark Z. Barbarak recapped this morning:

Asa Hutchinson was never going to be the 2024 Republican presidential nominee, much less the nation’s 47th president. In another time, before Donald Trump became the blob that swallowed the Republican Party, the former Arkansas governor would have been, at the least, a serious factor in the contest. 

What’s striking is not the predictable failure of Hutchinson’s campaign, which ended Wednesday after he finished light-years behind Trump in the Iowa caucuses. Rather, it was the response from the Democratic National Committee.

“This news comes as a shock to those of us who could’ve sworn he had already dropped out,” DNC Press Secretary Sarafina Chitika said in a statement dripping with snark and condescension.

Even the attempt to walk this back with a “surprising” followup that was labeled a “presidential apology” was somehow buck-passing and convoluted:

“The president knows [Hutchinson] to be a man of principle who cares about the country and has a strong record of public service,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters. Chief of Staff Jeff Zients had called the ex-governor “to convey this and apologized for the statement that did not represent the president’s views,” Jean-Pierre said.

Notice that those words were not uttered or even attributed to our current chief executive?

At least when the schmo who preceded him wants to offer faint praise, or even a bad fast food choice, he does it himself.

So I tend to throw up my hands in disgust at both current options, hoping against hope that there’s a political equivalent to that healthier casino restaurant out there.  The Democrats do have an ace in the hole, a somewhat more grounded executive who recently won a special election in a landslide.  And there’s precedence for an unpopular candidate who was championing a war the majority of people didn’t want to be in, as NEWSWEEK’s Darragh Roche reminded exactly a year ago:

President Lyndon B. Johnson passed away on January 22, 1973, just four years after leaving the Oval Office and one of the most tumultuous presidencies in U.S. history.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Johnson—who was almost universally known as LBJ—Mark Lawrence, historian and director of the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum in Austin, spoke to Newsweek about his legacy and how he compares to President Joe Biden.

“I think on the most basic level, here are two guys who rise to the presidency after very long service in Congress—related to that is, I think, their reputations as leaders with a taste for bipartisanship and pragmatism,” he said. “I think both of them were seen as essentially problem-solvers who weren’t strongly ideological in their orientation,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence noted that the last three years of Johnson’s administration were “much less productive” as he faced political headwinds, but he pointed to the fact that Congress remained “very much in Democratic hands.” 

Lawrence said that Biden has “obviously faced a very challenging political landscape since he came into office with far fewer possibilities for enacting transformative legislation than LBJ had.”  And I suppose you could say a difficult situation has simply gotten worse,” he said. “In LBJs case, to put it bluntly, I suppose a very promising case—a very promising situation— got somewhat worse. For Biden, a very bad situation has gotten worse.”

There are statistically compelling reasons for the Democratic Party to learn from their past and provide a more viable alternative.  Yet for reasons that can only be surmised as blind faith, both personal and perceptual, it’s not likely to even be a consideration, as BUSINESS INSIDER’s Kayla Epstein reminded two years ago:
California has given the US two presidents — Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan — and could give it a third in 2024. Vice President Kamala Harris, a former senator and state attorney general, is considered next in line for the Democratic nomination should her boss, President Joe Biden, choose not to run for a second term due to his age. But even if Biden runs again, the 2028 nomination would be Harris’ to lose.
Except that at the moment, Harris is even more unpopular than Biden, and the demographic tickmarks she rattles off, even as his running-mate, are increasingly and almost inexplicably moving toward Trump.  Again, there may not be a 2028 election if he prevails.  What stands in the way of even offering that choice?  Epstein cites a couple of head-slapping “rationales”:
Kamala Harris being vice president not only complicates Gavin Newsom’s path, but the path of everybody if Biden doesn’t run in 2024,” said Bruce Cain, a professor of political science at Stanford University in California. “It’s even a greater complication for Gavin given that his base and her base is California. I think it’s fair to say that it has to be weighing on any calculation he might have about jumping into a 2024 race.”  

Two Democrats who have worked for Newsom dismissed speculation that the two Northern California politicians would ever face off in a presidential primary.

“There’s no way in hell those two are going to run against each other,” said one California operative who has worked for both Newsom and Harris. “They are old friends who go back decades.”

So it appears even the possibility of a healthier choice is off the menu.  Much like a whole bunch of salads, wraps and even grilled chicken choices that were once available at places like Burger King used to be.  And judging by the lines my friend and Grandma saw as they drove pas their first option on New Year’s Day, as well as the prompt service they received at the far emptier casino, it sure looks like more people than not really don’t want or at least aren’t prioritizing healthier options.

And don’t think all this self-limiting is exclusive to politics.  It’s even truer when it comes to media measurement.  I can’t begin to tell you how many advertisers and marketers are lazy enough to believe either the oversimplicity and incompleteness of Nielsen or the mysterious self-reported metrics that digital platforms and streaming services offer them without context.  And I won’t now, since this musing has already gone on pretty long.

But I will offer up this glimmer of hope and opportunity:  A Nielsen competitor, Videoamp, has recently released its version of TV’s Top 100 shows, and based on their more complete panel and daypart lenses you’d be extremely surprised to learn that shows you probably have forgotten about, airing at times of day you wouldn’t necessarily assume could aggregate the masses, are attracting larger audiences than a whole lot of other stuff that has better buzz.  That’s a credible and unbiased third party.  And, as you already know, it’s recently appointed my old boss to head it all up.

My friend Evan Shapiro knows that too, and those two are sitting down later today to present those interested with the reminder that, at least in this world, a choice exists.  As he wrote on his DEEP TV Substack blog last week:

(Y)ou can join me for a very special episode of my monthly zoominar, where I’ll have a one-on-one interview with Peter Ligouri, newly named Executive Chair of VideoAmp. We’ll chat about this report, and I will ask him some no-holds-barred questions about why he decided to join VideoAmp’s team and why he wants to get into a currency war with Nielsen, now.

Details for the zoominar are here. I hope to see you there!

I’m making a choice to be there with my lunch, and I can assure you it won’t be fast food.  I hope you’ll decide to make healthier choices of your own everywhere, too.  Joining me, Peter and Evan might be a great first step.

Until next time…


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