Queen for a Day

Referring to “Queen for a Day,” I do not mean Ms. Hillary. After last night, she may be back on track for the allotted four or eight years (and Bill for the extraconstiutional twelve or sixteen). Two thousand eight figured to be a tough year for Republicans in any event, but the field of Republican presidential candidates has proved most notable for its weakness. As Mark Steyn wrote earlier this week, it’s a shame one of them has to win.

Whatever Ms. Hillary’s weaknesses, her potential Republican opponents do not appear formidable. In his 1996 loss to Bill Clinton, Bob Dole proved that you can’t beat somebody with nobody. Neither Bob Dole nor John McCain is nobody, but each of them is weak tea against the potent brew of the blandishments of the modern Democratic Party.

Listening to Ms. Hillary’s speech last night, I was struck most by its frank commitment to the further nannification of the nanny state. Those of us who have resisted becoming its cliients and who would prefer to keep the overhead down are in for a wild ride. Ms. Hillary began her speech with a warm-up to calling the roll of misery:

[T]onight, we are hearing the voices of people across America, people of all ages, of all colors, all faiths and all walks of life, people on the day shift, the night shift, the late shift, with the crying babies, moms and dads who want a better world for our children, young people who deserve a world of opportunity, all those who aren’t in the headlines, but have always written America’s story.

People on the day shift, the night shift, the late shift. Ms. Hillary left out only the shifty and the shiftless. The New Republic has compiled an impressive roster of shifty Clinton supporters in “With friends like these…” And TNR’s list was not updated to account for Frank Giustra.

Ms. Hillary’s toll of misery itself recalls the politics of 1996. At their convention that year, Republicans tried to compete with the Democrats. They staged a weepathon in Elizabeth Dole’s tribute to Bob Dole. But Republicans simply can’t beat the Democrats at this game. The Democrats saw Elizabeth Dole’s weepathon and raised her with the speech by the late Christopher Reeve.

In her Wall Street Journal column on Monday, Cynthia Crossen recalled the 1950’s reality game show “Queen for a Day.” Apart from “Rin Tin Tin,” I don’t think any show of the era made a deeper impression on me as a child. With Jack Bailey presiding over the proceedings and the women competing to tell the most heartbreaking tale of woe, the applause meter reflected the audience’s judgment designating the most pathetic. She with the most pathetic story would be the Queen for a Day.

The show granted the audience a godlike power to alleviate human misery. “Queen for a Day” is a relic of a bygone era, its role thoroughly supplanted by the leviathan of the administrative state. As we can see in this year’s presidential race, “Queen for a Day” provides the form for the further growth of the administrative state.

Crossen recalls that the wishes originally gratified by “Queen for a Day” were whimsical or flippant in nature, showing a spirit of fun. The grimness that made an impression on me came later. Crossen writes:

Contestants started wishing for things like dentures, hearing aids and prosthetic limbs, special bikes for their terminally ill children, or a car so they could visit their disabled husband in the veterans’ hospital. Instead of a professional panel, the queen was chosen by an “applause meter” of audience response, so the trick was to tug as many heartstrings as possible without breaking down and blubbering, which Mr. Bailey strongly discouraged.

The show worked out an inexorable inner logic:

The show became a competition of who had it worst. A woman who wanted a special bed for her brother, who had been shot five times in the back, beat out a woman whose 5-year-old son had a brain tumor and wanted educational toys and a collie for him.

One woman wanted a vacation because her two disabled children had died, then her father and mother died, and a month later her husband. And she didn’t even win. She was defeated by a woman who wanted a wheelchair for her son, who had cerebral palsy.

In 1953, Maxine Thompson asked only for 10 pairs of denim trousers for her 10 sons, who ranged in age from 15 months to 15 years. In addition to the pants, she won a three-week trip to Europe, where she was scheduled to attend coronation festivities for Queen Elizabeth.

We can observe how the show has been supplanted by the administrative state and its votaries in the Democratic Party. Borrowing from a critic of the show, we might even dub the Democratic Party the party “of flummery and flapdoodle”:

A wire-service critic, William Ewald, called the show an essay in flummery and flapdoodle and complained about the woman who said her crippled husband was unemployed, her baby’s lungs had been scarred by pneumonia, “and, rather anticlimactically I thought, she added that she and her husband both had astigmatism.”

As Christopher Reeve showed in 1996, the Democratic Party has traced the inner logic of “Queen for a Day” to its ultimate conclusion, breaking through Jack Bailey’s rules of decorum in the process.

There were only a few rules about who could or couldn’t be a contestant for queen. “No blind people and no crutches,” Mr. Bailey said in a newspaper interview. “If you allow them on, you might just as well throw out the other contestants. They would always win. So in fairness, we don’t pick them.”

The contemporary Democratic Party breaks through all the boundaries established by Jack Bailey in the interest of fair play and intelligence:

Mr. Bailey also discarded such “dumb” wishes as “world peace” and “a cure for cancer.” The wish had to be for something that could be bought. When one woman asked for her daughter to be brought to the U.S. from Russia, a producer backstage was heard by a reporter saying, “Only the money. We don’t want to get involved with the visa.”

Like John McCain, the Democratic Party can’t wait “to get involved with the visa.” Crossen then raises the issue of the contestants’ veracity in a manner that anticipates the Democrats’ exhibits in the S-CHIP debate last year:

No attempts were made to check the contestants’ stories, even if they won the crown. The producers assumed liars would be busted by their neighbors. A woman once complained that her children couldn’t go to school because they didn’t have clothes or shoes. Within minutes, the network’s switchboard was taking calls from acquaintances of the woman who claimed that the women’s children were dressed just fine.

Crossen concludes her column with an anecdote that reveals the outer limits of the administrative state:

In a 1956 interview, Mr. Bailey said that only once had the show failed to grant a winner’s wish. “And that can’t really be called our fault,” he said. “The queen had asked that her mother be brought here from the Arctic Circle. So we hired a bush pilot to fly thousands of miles over the frozen wastelands and make the last leg of the journey by dog sled. When he finally reached the Eskimo woman’s tiny shelter, he pushed aside the bearskins hanging over the door and explained his mission. The little old lady refused to leave.”

It’s time to take a lesson from that little old lady.

PAUL adds: Great post, Scott. I remember the show, but found it unwatchable. Sort of like the next four to eight years.

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