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Natalia Naman Temesgen: Campaign has become worst kind of reality TV

Donald Trump, left, responds to Jeb Bush (not shown) in a debate as Ted Cruz looks on.
Donald Trump, left, responds to Jeb Bush (not shown) in a debate as Ted Cruz looks on. Associated Press archives

You learn about government in grade school. That introduction to our democracy and the executive, legislative and judicial branches was a fascinating look into a powerful realm I never really noticed before. D.C. seemed like the world of the all-knowing and all-powerful, and my tie to that world was my eventual right to vote.

Because I was a month shy of age in 2004, I've voted in two presidential elections so far. Increasingly, there is so much opacity, so much distraction, that when I cast my vote I have the sinking feeling that I may have been played, that I'd made a misguided decision about a very important matter. This year it feels more difficult than ever to cut through the fluff and get to the meat I still hope is underneath.

I don't mind being entertained by politics. But this season of "Presidential Hopefuls" is a reality TV show in the worst way. This isn't Kelly Clarkson wins "American Idol," where looks and charm count for a lot but merit still plays a huge role. This is "Real Housewives." This is who had the best quip of the episode. Who threw the most shade? Who threw their drink at someone? Who knocked over a table and jumped another candidate?

Whoever that is will be making headlines all week, trending on Twitter and probably spiking the polls. And then, once that buzz has died down, we'll watch again to see what Trump is going say this time. Or how Hillary's going to sideswipe Bernie. We're really only listening for the fluff anymore.

Even during last week's Republican debate, I caught a telling moment between Ted Cruz and moderator Chris Wallace.

Cruz complained that everyone had been asked, "Please attack Ted." And Wallace retorted with smugness, "It is a debate, sir." The audience booed and roared like they were watching a tiff at a reunion episode of "The Bachelor."

And I thought, no, Chris Wallace, this isn't a debate. A debate is "a formal discussion... in which opposing arguments are put forward." What this is, is profitable television. The arguments aren't put forward so much as they're batted around and destroyed. And if wearing suits was what made the discussion "formal," then I guess just about every scene in "The Shahs of Sunset" is a debate.

I'm being a little facetious here, but only a little. Because the Iowa Caucus is tomorrow, and all I know about the candidates from their debates, town halls and commercials is that shock value and quotables are what sets the popular from the unpopular.

Anything that doesn't sound like a putdown is some big promise that lacks clear application or strategy. If only things were as simple as they seemed in grade school.

We'll see what Iowa thinks about all this. Let's just say, I will only be so surprised if Ryan Seacrest gets on CNN tomorrow, puts his arm around Ted Cruz and says, "To vote for Ted, Dial 1-866-IDOLS-1."

-- Natalia Naman Temesgen is an independent contractor. Contact her at