My Dream Candidate Doesn’t Exist

Sigh… More than twenty Democrats are running for president, and none of them will stuff Trump’s hairpiece down his throat—the one thing I would pay to see. Call me a single-issue donor; I’m searching for a unicorn. And BTW: the extinct Siberian Unicorn above is copyright © W. S. VAN DER MERWE / NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM.

For any Secret Service folks reading this, of course I mean figuratively. I would never advocate (or, hee-hee, even wish for) harm to the president! But I do want to hear a left-wing pundit proclaim, the morning after a debate, “Wow! Did she ever rip Trump a new one last night!” And I want to watch him bleed—figuratively—all over his debate podium.

I planned this essay to pose the question, “Is a sane campaign possible?” But we all know the answer already: there’s no friggin’ way. Which brings up the inconvenient truth that we haven’t had a sane presidential campaign in years.

My own memory ranges from the Nixon campaign’s “Dirty Tricks” squad through Gingrich’s 1990s war of words to Trump’s campaign of lies, fear, innuendo, and nicknames. But he didn’t invent any of that ugliness; it’s been a campaign staple since the 1800s.

So here we are beginning a new “season” of Political Survivor, ready to jump off the boat and swim to shore.

At this writing, that boat is fuller than a migrant raft adrift in the Mediterranean. But this floating metaphor is headed straight for the 2020 election, and the flag it flies is a deep blue. No surprise there. It’s the Democrats’ turn. 

Political cartoonists long ago began drawing the crowd of candidates as an overstuffed clown car or even the entire circus. IMO this perception relates more to the media’s need for drama: We’ll call it like a horse race! And when it’s down to two: Now it’s a prize fight!

Just look at my shtick: I compare the campaign to a “reality” TV show that features shifting alliances, broken promises, back-stabbing dirty politics, and a lot of high-profile bullshit. Oh wait a minute, that’s way too truthful to be a metaphor.

The best metaphor might be the 1999 movie Election, because our presidential contests are less adult debates than pathetic exercises in high school drama. And the Press—yes, that much maligned Mainstream Media—earns much of its disrespect by playing the busybody…

What’s the worst behavior anyone saw today? We’ll lead the Evening News with that! And while I’m pointing fingers, I’ll damn us viewers as well, because we drive up the ratings by watching this drivel.

Has it always been like that movie? Why do I love rooting for, while simultaneously gasping at, Reese Witherspoon’s horrid teen politician Tracy Flick? Because I wish I could behave as badly as she does? Absolutely. This I do not need to tell you: I’m a bad boy is a huge part of Trump’s appeal.

So here I am presenting myself as the Voice of Reason, while my own campaign fantasy fits the prize fight cliché like a boxer’s glove: I want to see my candidate go toe to toe with Ol’ Agent Orange. On second thought, screw the gloves—I’m in for a bare-knuckle brawl. Blood! The sad truth is that the ability to get elected is now the main requirement needed to “earn” you the job. 

It doesn’t matter if you don’t actually know how to do the job. And are unwilling to learn as you go. Interestingly, one of the most overused election memes—“The stakes have never been higher!”— is usually true. Until the next election, when it is again true.

The most realistic quote that I’ve read about the whole process belongs to one of the dropouts (Richard Ojeda): “When I was a child, my grade school teachers told us all that anyone in America could grow up and become president. I now realize that this is not the case.”

Trump won in 2016 for a combination of reasons, only one of which is his outrageous style. But look at it from his point of view: He won as an asshole, and now he’s governing as an asshole—without significant consequences. So why stop doing what works?

The Republican party suffered consequences in 2018, but Trump seems not to have noticed. 55% of the candidates who he backed won, which helped convince himself, and his followers, that he has sway in an election. But those wins were mostly the result of picking safe Republican seats to back.

Campaigning has changed. Governing, if you want to call it that with this administration, has changed. It’s time for the opposition to speak Truth to Power, in Power’s own language.

I’ll start with nicknames. I nominate “Deadbeat Donald” for Trump’s abandonment of treaties and agreements in place before his presidency, and for his well-documented refusal to pay contractors who worked for him. A quote from Trump in one instance was, “I’ve paid him enough.”

Next is standing on his throat during a debate:

– Trump tells a known lie.
Candidate: “That’s a lie.”

– Trump tells another known lie.
Candidate: “That’s a lie.”

– Trump repeats a lie.
Candidate: “That’s still a lie.”

– Trump: “Stop interrupting me!”
Candidate: “Stop lying!”

You’re right: this is dialog from an overheated TV drama, not an actual debate, no matter how heated. I’ll tone down the confrontation to passive-aggressive innuendo…

Candidate: “It’s common knowledge that Trump has laundered Russian mob money since the Nineties, and money stolen from the Russian people by Putin’s kleptocracy since the Two Thousands.”

Trump: “That’s a lie.”

Candidate: “Prove it. Release your tax returns.”

Trump: “I will not.”

Candidate: “Of course you won’t, because those returns prove that you’re a tax cheat and a money launderer.”

Actually, what we have are not debates in which two candidates can talk to each like that; they’re moderated question-and-answer sessions to prevent the very scenario I’m fantasizing. And yes, the dialog is contrived. But IMO a candidate could pitch the money laundering believably. There’s been smoke around this rumor for years, and you just know there’s real fire.

While we’re reading smoke signals, here’s a challenge I’d like to see someone throw at him:

“Our Intelligence Community clearly established that the Russian government interfered with the 2016 election—and on your behalf. Is that why you’ve done nothing to prevent that from happening again? Nothing at all. What did you discuss in those secret meetings with Putin? How you can become dictator for life?”

OK, OK, I drifted off into Hollywood high fiction again. At least I hope it was fiction. I’ve been describing the unicorn candidate of my fantasies. Someone who can wrestle this demon on its own ground. Clinton’s voice of reason, of careful consideration before any action, lost. Chaos won. We can’t let that happen again. We can’t help that happen again!

Here’s a hard truth: name recognition gives you a gigantic advantage. Add a dash of gravitas, and you’re practically elected. Think: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movie role as The Terminator, which got him the governorship of California. Think: Trump’s famous Apprentice line, “You’re fired.” 

The media and our culture created these celebrity politicians, who have the performance chops to get elected, but not the political chops to govern effectively, or responsibly.

At least some members of the media acknowledge that campaign coverage is unfair and unbalanced. Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post took her colleagues to task for its coverage of candidates: “To eliminate bias, intentional or unintentional, you first have to be conscious of it.”

…or the media could try chasing truth instead of money. But that’s a counterintuitive strategy when your continued survival as a business depends on your intake of money more than on your output of truth. Just ask Fox “News.”

By some estimates, the media gifted candidate Trump well over a billion dollars in free advertising during the 2016 campaign. And not because he was spreading truth. He was ratings gold back then, and still is. Conservative TV gets ratings from defending Trump’s actions, while Liberal TV scores by attacking him. 

The poll aggregator FiveThirtyEight.com is tracking which candidates get the most media coverage, which may be the best indicator of who people will vote for: the name that they hear the most.

Go to FiveThirtyEight.com and search for the author of these weekly reports: Dhrumil Mehta. You’ll get a list of stories like this: 

May 13: Biden Is (Still) Leading Cable News Coverage

May 6: Cable News Is Covering Biden As Much As Every Other Democratic Candidate Combined

April 29: Biden Was All Over Cable News Last Week — And So Was Anita Hill

April 22: Fox News Can’t Stop Talking About Bernie Sanders

April 15: Buttigieg Was The Second-Most-Mentioned Candidate On Cable Last Week. Sanders Was The First.

April 8: Bernie Sanders And Pete Buttigieg Had A Good Week On Cable News

April 1: Which 2020 Democrat Got The Most Cable News Attention Last Week?

Hmmm, with all the diversity in the Democratic field, the headliners are three white men. And since that is the result of polling, it’s hard to say who’s responsible: the media or us, the consumers of it.

Are you worried about our democracy yet? Chill, and let this Election clip explain the wonder of “Apples, Oranges, and Democracy”

…and then VOTE, damnit!

 

Written by

Steve Schlich is retired after 35 years of writing fiction about software: “easy to use,” “does what you want,” and the like. Hobbies include webmaster for www.RodSerling.com, writing songs and short stories. In 2004, he created www.NakedWashington.com, a website chronicling the naughty public art in Washington, D.C. He lives happily with his wife and cats, north of San Francisco.

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