By Alan W. Dowd

Survey Says…

Who needs primaries, conventions or political parties? That’s the question producers at Fox cable network FX are asking as they prepare to launch The American Candidate, a new reality-based television show that promises to find a “people’s candidate” for the 2004 presidential race.

Using their 2002 smash-hit American Idol as a model, Fox execs envision a national competition involving 100 would-be candidates—two from each state. As in American Idol, the field of hopefuls will be tested each week and whittled down by viewers and a panel of experts. The series (and campaign) will reportedly begin in January 2004, with a final episode set for July 4, just weeks before the two major parties hold their conventions.

Fox producers say the show will give “everyday folks a forum to express their point of view.” Of course, candidates have to meet the bare minimums required of a president by the Constitution: Applications will only be accepted from natural-born US citizens who have reached the age of 35.

Before dismissing The American Candidate, take a look at some sobering numbers: According to Fox, 13.4 million tuned in to American Idol every week. Based on the 2000 election, that’s about 13 percent of the raw popular vote. And as Al Gore, both George Bushes, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot know from experience, elections have been decided by far narrower percentages than this.

Ben Fritz, a contributor to The American Prospect magazine, is intrigued by Fox’s idea. But he nonetheless concedes that “the producers don't seem to realize the power their show could have.”  Film critic Roger Ebert rightly worries that the program “could wreak havoc with our electoral system.” And he predicts it will never reach our TV sets for that very reason. Let’s hope Ebert is right. The Constitution doesn’t prescribe political parties, but they organically developed early in American history to serve as a moderating influence on the young republic’s political development.  Almost 210 years after Adams’ Federalists and Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans first squared off, the national parties still play that role.

US Army, Inc.

Looking for “the best deal for the taxpayer” and vowing “to free up resources for the global war on terrorism,” the White House is ordering the Pentagon and other agencies to contract out more jobs to the private sector.  Up to 214,000 Army positions could be affected.

According to Army Secretary Thomas White, “We are actively seeking to outsource or privatize all non-core functions.” While the scope and scale of White’s privatization program is ambitious, Pentagon privatization is actually nothing new: A study by the Washington Post found that the Reagan administration shifted 15,000 Army positions to the private sector in the 1980s. The Clinton administration reviewed 33,000 Army jobs, ultimately contracting out some 6,300 of them to private industry.

Nor is private contracting limited to stateside bases. According to Government Executive magazine, “the Services increasingly are hiring contractors to provide support behind the lines.” Companies such as Brown and Root are based alongside US forces throughout the Balkans. They repair vehicles, cook meals, wash laundry and, in the words of one employee, “do everything that does not require us to carry a gun.”

Government Executive found that for every two troops deployed, there are three contractors. A little over a decade ago in the Persian Gulf, there was just one contractor for every 100 troops in the desert.


Once the bane of Olympic committees and the NFL, performance-enhancing drugs are now raising concerns in the military, as the Christian Science Monitor discovered in a recent investigation.

Over-the-counter amphetamines are gaining popularity among a military that is stretched thin. Operating at high operational tempos across the globe, troops are being asked to work longer and fight smarter than ever before. As a consequence, some are using enhancers to maintain their battle-ready edge.

Some Pentagon planners see this as the beginning of a new era in warfare, where “super-soldiers” are able to perform their duties continuously for up to seven days, resist the effects of jetlag, and overcome high-altitude and underwater exposure. According to the Monitor’s study, planners even envision the use of tiny implants, which could release chemicals to regulate how troops react in taxing conditions.

But before chemically reengineering our troops, it seems wiser—and safer—to either increase the Pentagon’s manpower or reduce its workload. With the war on terror still in its early stages, the latter simply isn’t an option. 

Published monthly in the American Legion Magazine, Under the Radar provides a snapshot of current challenges in international politics, U.S. foreign policy and national security.