Honey Boo Boo Vs. Bill Clinton: Is the Future of the Nation at Stake? (ANALYSIS)

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Forget Obama vs. Romney. The biggest showdown in America may be the one tonight between Bubba and Boo Boo -- er, between former President Bill Clinton and seven-year-old reality TV star Alana "Honey Boo Boo" Thompson.

The ex-president is addressing the nation tonight during the Democratic National Convention, where he will no doubt paint the upcoming election in stark, historical, high-stakes terms.

But the import of what he has to say may be lost or ignored by a plurality of Americans, who may instead choose to watch the tiny beauty pageant contestant and her eccentric family on TLC's surprise summer hit Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. The show airs at 10 PM, around the same time as the former president's speech.

Is it alarmist to worry that a show whose critics have called it a doomsday bell tolling the death of civilization as we know it will outdraw a speech of national importance?

No it's not, considering that last week's episode, watched by some 3 million viewers, outdrew each network's coverage of the Republican National Convention. So the stakes are high this week, not just for Nielsen-ratings bragging rights, but perhaps for the very future of the United States of America.

Bill Clinton may be one of the most popular ex-presidents and riveting speakers in recent history, but is he compelling enough to outdraw the antics of a sassy little girl with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement and a family of proud and colorful grotesques? And if not, what does that say about America?

Actually, Clinton and Miss Thompson may have more in common than either would care to admit. Both are from the deep South and proud of it; both grew up (or started to) in relative poverty; and both burned with insatiable ambition, egged on by supportive mothers. Oh, and both have been slaves to appetites that have nearly proven their downfall.

And of course, both have been called white trash -- Clinton by the Washington establishment that never really stopped thinking of him as a hick and an outsider and which jumped at the first excuse to punish him for it. ("He came in here and he trashed the place, and it's not his place," said Washington Post columnist David Broder at the height of impeachment-mania in 1998.)

As for Honey Boo Boo, Thompson's stage mom, 300-pound hurricane June Shannon, has been singled out, along with the show in general, as an example of horrific parenting, raising a family of girls on their way to similar obesity, plying Alana with "go-go juice" (a mixture of Mountain Dew and Red Bull) before sending her onstage at kiddie beauty pageants, and serving as the most nightmarish portrait of unfit motherhood since -- well, since MTV gave us Teen Mom and Snooki. Not the least of Shannon's crimes: allowing her tyke to be filmed for this show, which may be even more exploitative of her than the beauty pageants are. (Honey Boo Boo is, of course, a spinoff of the similarly appalling Toddlers & Tiaras.)

The show has allowed critics to have their moonshine and drink it too. They get to slam it for indulging in stereotypes of Southern backwardness so broad that no Ivy League-bred Hollywood TV scriptwriter would ever dare put them on paper, all while judging the show's real-life protagonists for living down to those stereotypes. The critics get to be outraged (in the direst, most alarmist terms) and patronizing at the same time. But then, so do the viewers, which may be part of the show's appeal.

After all, like so much of reality TV, there's a hidden element of class superiority involved. We can watch Teen Mom or Jersey Shore and enjoy the outlandish behavior while assuring ourselves that we would never behave as foolishly as these apparent products of lax upbringings. Shows like Honey Boo Boo allow us to say, There but for the grace of God (and some boneheaded decisions) go I.

We don't like to mention the existence of class in America (even to acknowledge a growing inequality gap in income is to engage in class warfare, according to Republicans), but as long as we can assure ourselves that we're on the right side of that divide, we can pretend it doesn't exist.

No doubt Clinton will spend much of his allotted time tonight saying, yes, the class divide does exist, and we need to do something about it. For one thing, he'll say, we need to vote for the candidate we think is most likely to address the issue. Oh, but that's too difficult, too medicinal, and no fun.

It's easier to watch June Shannon breaking wind and feeding her brood roadkill. Then again, maybe there's no better cautionary tale about how our system is broken and in desperate need of fixing than Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. Either way,we've been warned.

Who do you think will win the ratings war? Honey Boo Boo or Clinton?

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