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WYSIWYG Candidates

October 3, 2010

It’s a feature of politics that those who run for office must be media savvy. If you have skeletons in your closet you better have that closet locked, girded with iron chains and buried at the bottom of Lake Erie. (Unless of course you have a friendly media covering it up for you, as in Obama’s case in 08.) You also have to watch carefully what you say, especially if you’re a conservative candidate. The press might take any of your expressions and turn them into a weapon against you. So you better choose your words with caution, not only when talking publicly but also when someone just might have a camera phone directed at you. Another ability you must have is talking for time, ie giving “answers” to questions without actually saying anything. Because if you actually say something critics will have evidence against you: “You said you want to… so how can you claim that you… !?” etc.

Those rules are stricter for those running for higher offices than those running for less important ones. Often you can tell by the mere mug shot of candidates whether they’re running for Senate or for the House. Senate candidates are simply much more slick and “professional” than House candidates who might almost pass for your neighbour.

The Tea Party has changed that.

Many of the Tea Party candidates — by which I mean that they’re enthusiastically backed by the movement — are a far cry from the calculated personas of wanna-be career politicians. Christine O’Donnell had money problems and fights with the IRS; Carl Paladino has an out-of-wedlock daughter and barks at a cheeky journalist like a Robert de Niro character; Sharron Angle has a history of spelling out her strong opinions even though this creates fodder for the mainstream media’s gleeful depiction of her as an outlandish kook; and Tea Party favourite, if not candidate, Sarah Palin has a daughter whose out-of-wedlock pregnancy was worldwide news. Or, as Rush Limbaugh put it, these are life-happens people.

There are two aspects about this that the French Cowboy would like to comment on. 1) I’d much rather have a candidate whose life story is flawed but honest, than a candidate who is a natural actor and easily covers up corrupt dealings. And 2) some of the most successful politicians (especially Democrats, I might add) have a shocking amount of dirt glued to them but never had to take responsiblity for it. So those in the media who belittle or even euphemise the serious flaws and mistakes of a Charlie Rangel or a Ted Kennedy, a Bill Clinton or a Robert Byrd, a Barbara Boxer or a Barack Obama, are only betraying their lefty bias when portraying Angle’s views on public education as completely outrageous or Paladino’s family life as a disqualifier.

In normal times, you have to be a weird type to be attracted to politics. After all, who would want the intrusive scrutiny, the unfair depiction of yourself, your life and your family, the constant dissection and interpretation of all of your statements past and present? Who likes a job where you have to “nuance” your statements so that nobody could possibly feel offended by them or where you have to give content-free answers to sometimes too stupid, sometimes too important questions?

Sane people stay out of politics as a profession. But thanks to Obama & Co’s juggernauting bad policies into Americans’ lives, more “normal” people have decided to run for public office and stop the craze. These people didn’t enter politics because they’re too ugly for Hollywood, but because they believe in government of the people, by the people and for the people. And there’s something wrong when a government with such a claim is composed of nobody but smooth-tongued actors who have an Ivy League degree; are happily married with two and a half flawless kids; like every kind of sport, music, and food; and who have never lived through a problem that connot be romanticised.

To be sure, the French Cowboy thinks that staying out of trouble is a common sense thing to do. And other things being equal I prefer a candidate who didn’t have an extra-marital affair. So I won’t blame anyone for not having had enough snafus in their lives. But the thing is that life comes at you fast and it’s during difficult times that character is either destroyed or built up. So having had unheroic problems in your life is saying nothing about who you are now. It may well be that what you’ve lived through (or are still living through) has made you a better person. And it’s not unheard of that someone who’s never had to pass unwelcome obstacles has turned into a smug idiot.

As for the Tea Party candidates, they’re attracting sympathy because they’re like you and me, not in spite of it. I definitely don’t mind an impressive Army hero with a master’s degree in economics like Joe Miller to oust Murkowski. But I don’t mind an outspoken Sharron Angle to replace Harry Reid either, even if — or maybe because — she hasn’t adapted half as much to media practices and professional politics as, say, Mitt Romney who is so careful not to spoil his chances for the presidency that he’s doing exactly that.

The mainstream media enjoys feeling superior to Tea Partiers and their preferred candidates because their stories aren’t chic, they’re just people with imperfect lives. But the media is missing that this authenticity signals honesty and how serious these candidates are with their policies. They’re not running for office because they want to be adulated and join a sort of ersatz royalty, but because they care about the policy issues. Two years after the election of a self-centred, arrogant and far too liberal Obama, who could say and do virtually anything and still be portrayed as the golden candidate, this is a welcome breeze of fresh air.

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