The Presidential Hunger Games 

Washington takes some direction from Hollywood.

With Rick Santorum out of the race for now, it’s been tough going for reporters looking to spice up the story.

Mitt Romney, the eternal chameleon, hardly makes for gripping journalism, even when he is doing something as potentially explosive as addressing the National Rifle Association.

We have learned not to expect any Charlton Heston-type rhetoric out of this man, no quotes involving “cold, dead hands.” Instead, the candidate tap-danced around his record in Massachusetts, where he signed a ban on assault weapons.

Nor can I get too excited about what is now being called “Mommy wars” — the enormous flap over a truly silly remark by a Democratic strategist that Ann Romney “had never worked a day in her life.”

We all agree that raising children is hard work — the hardest — and we all know what Hilary Rosen meant, i.e. that Ann Romney had never worked outside the home. But politics is a dirty game, and the ruckus will likely continue until November.

President Barack Obama is also failing to provide fireworks these days, despite an appearance with Shakira in Cartagena.

So, bored and frustrated with the political scene, I joined the rest of the world at the movies. I went to see "The Hunger Games."

For those who have been living in another galaxy for the past year, the movie is based on a book of the same name, the first volume in a dystopian trilogy by Suzanne Collins. The film is breaking all records, and purports to be for young adults — the 12 to 17 set.

I think, however, that the adolescents may miss the most interesting facet of the film: it is a near-perfect metaphor for our own presidential reality show.

Think about it. A bunch of wannabe heroes — for some reason called “tributes” instead of “candidates” in Collins’ world — face each other in an arena. In order to win, they must find favor with a generally obtuse public and a media that feeds on sensation, and they must annihilate their opponents by any means possible.

Sure, in Panem, (the world of "The Hunger Games"), the tributes are not self-selected. They are dragged kicking and screaming into the arena. In my opinion, this just shows Panem’s moral superiority to our own down-and-dirty political world. Perhaps we’d be better off if we drafted presidential candidates, instead of relying on the megalomaniacal impulses of a select group of wealthy and/or well-connected individuals.

The winnowing process is also a bit different, although not necessarily more humane.

In "The Hunger Games," the tributes must physically exterminate all opponents; in our own contest the end is just as brutal, but acted out on the political stage.

Think back to Herman Cain’s death by a thousand cuts: from sex scandals to the widely publicized “Where is Libya?” interview. Rick Perry will surely never recover from his “brain freeze” moment, shown hundreds of thousands of times on You Tube.

Michele Bachmann and John Huntsman — remember them? — were also voted out of the arena after disappointing performances in the Games, er, primaries.

Now we are down to the final contestants — Romney and Obama squaring off in the center, while Newt Gingrich snaps at them from the perimeter. Ron Paul has been gone a long time. He just doesn’t know it yet.

"The Hunger Games" are televised in loving detail for a voracious public. No detail goes unrecorded. Even personal relationships are fodder for the insatiable appetites of the viewers.

Early on, we learn that appealing to the masses is almost the only way to victory. Sponsors will shower a popular tribute with weapons, medicines and anything else he or she might need to win.

So media appearances are carefully scripted, with a saccharine narrative that often has little to do with reality.

Sound familiar yet?

The contest itself is a meticulously crafted set piece, put together by a team of Gamekeepers. They can hurl walls of fire at specific contestants, or insert swarms of mutant insects into the fray.

Our own Gamekeepers are called “political consultants,” and have more modest resources at their disposal — a fabricated scandal here or a carefully orchestrated leak there — but they can be just as effective.

The most important difference between the film and reality is that at the end of "The Hunger Games," we can all go home. Katniss and Peeta will rest on their celluloid laurels, most likely to come back another day.

There will be no waking up from our own Presidential Hunger Games. We are stuck with the results for the next four years.

Cue the mutant insects.

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