When Idol Gives Back held back statements from all three presidential candidates to make way for more Miley Cyrus airtime, it became apparent that producers feel viewers are more focused on charity than the presidential race. In an effort to combine the two-- politics and charity-- Stephen Colbert's straw poll in Pennsylvania is based on how much candidates' donors can raise for schools.
Taking it one step further, imagine candidates signing a Rebuild New Orleans pledge. After the race, a candidate's surplus campaign funds would go directly to the rebuilding of New Orleans through the charity or agency of his or her choice.
It's a gesture that says, "I'm going to give this money away because after I win the first four years, I will be elected to four more since this country will be solvent again."
Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign could already have saved enough on Mark Penn's salary to rebuild a school, a 9th Ward home, a new musicians' home and a firehouse. Dennis Leary, Harry Connick, Jr., Branford Marsalis and Brad Pitt are already down there getting the rebuilding started. And there's precedent. Clinton's campaign donated Norman Hsu's $23,000 to charity after his arrest warrant was announced.
John Edwards once told me he felt America's interest has moved away from New Orleans recovery. A campaign surplus commitment from the candidates could begin to change that.
Senator Barack Obama would shed the himbo headlines that have started to plague him with more reporters covering his charm than his policies. Making New Orleans recovery a major focus turned Pitt into more than the guy in all those Oceans movies. In a Google search, there are 438,000 Google results for Obama and his smile, and 569,000 for Pitt and New Orleans.
It would be an unprecedented philanthropic act since historic amounts have already been raised. Come November, the surplus could show American Idol producers which candidate has the biggest achey breakey heart and bump some of Miley's airtime.
Last night, a Senator from Illinois, not that one, attended a gathering of New Orleaneans now displaced in the Prairie State. The department of human services hosted the reception, played classic New Orleans tunes, served New Orleans dishes and invited families to stand up and tell their stories. New Orleans Jeopardy was played (I managed to spell Tchoupitoulas), and the questions were like a litany - what is the holy trinity of New Orleans cooking? What street divides uptown from downtown? Who wrote a song about "The worst person I know?" (Mother in Law).
One child raised his hand when asked to name seven New Orleans neighborhoods. "Ninth Ward, Lower Nine, Pigeontown, Back of Town, Seventh Ward, Fisher Projects," Someone corrected him and said that the Fisher Project is not a neighborhood.
She was right. It's not anymore. By the end of the night we were all comparing notes on where we lived, what food we missed and, of course, music. If you've ever watched children's eyes light up at a second line, waving hankies and marching to a New Orleans mix tape, you would understand what it would mean for them to be able to go home. I wish all three senators running for president could have been there.
Any candidate who takes the Rebuild New Orleans Pledge for Surplus Campaign Funds can help show how much recovery is possible this year. A Brad Pitt-style standing ovation on the next Idol Gives Back may be waiting for the winner instead of getting bumped for Hannah Montana again.