To impress their potential mate, birds exhibit an array of calls, head bends, neck twists, and dances. The manakin performs a moonwalk, while the riflebird puffs his chest and appears to be doing the “dab” to attract his mate. Other animals tend to fight their way to the top of the pecking order to secure a mate. Politics is somewhat like courting. Presidential candidates woo and court us by making promises of a four year marital bliss hoping when election time comes we will consummate the relationship by casting a vote their way. Their courting tricks are similar to the animal kingdom. Some try brawn and toughness, while others try desperately to impress with pomp and circumstance. Politicking in its purest modern incarnation is what Chris Hedges describes as a “pseudo-event.” Pseudo-events are orchestrated political events “that have the capacity to appear real, even though we know they are staged. Those who succeed in politics, [with acute use of pseudo-events], as in most cultures, are those who create the most convincing fantasies.” Sounds like scripted “reality” television to me.
The Iowa Caucus will soon be upon us this February. It is the first opportunity for Americans to cast votes for potential presidential candidates in these our United States. Predicting the best candidate to run the country is a feat that should only be attempted by psychics, astronomers, voodoo masters and the like. Yet, I shall attempt to evaluate the top two Republican and Democratic candidates not based on the issues because the issues really are not as important as ideology. According to pollingreport.com, the priority topics are a hodgepodge of terrorism, healthcare, foreign policy, and the economy. Climate change, which the Democratic candidates have raised repeatedly as being important, does not factor heavily on the lists. Gun violence, abortion, police brutality, and other civil rights issue factor lowly. Therefore, I will not talk about the issues because most of us have already made up our mind about the “issues.” Instead, I will talk about the personalities behind this election cycle’s “pseudo-event.”
The Don should probably have 50 Cent as his vice-president since both are adept at filing bankruptcy for financial purposes and then laughing all the way to the bank. Trump is truly a maverick, more so than his predecessor McCain, for his brash, unapologetic swagger. In street language, he is “gangsta.” A true capitalist, Trump is more the showman than any other candidate. He entertains us with his own version of “look at me” how strong and brash I can be! But does Trump have substance?
His policies appear truly unknown except that he repeats catch phrases that only move and agitate his base. His positions on tax reform, immigration, gun laws and other staples of Republican politics are unwaveringly conservative. One then has to wonder, what makes Trump or any other Republican candidate before or after him special?
Trump’s specialty is in the delivery of the same message. Bill Clinton had the swagger of the handsome saxophone garnering him the phrase, first “Black” president. Bush, aka “W,” had the name but perhaps more important, the appeal of the guy next door that you wanted to share a drink at the bar. Obama was just too cool, handsome and as Joe Biden put it, “articulate and bright and clean.” It helps Trump that he is inheriting a base some would say carry a deep seeded hatred for Obama. Even Trump boasted that his base is so loyal that he could shoot someone on Fifth Ave and not lose voters!
Trump has a penchant for expressing divisive statements that many conservatives wish they could articulate. Trump is bold, unafraid, unapologetic, sassy, provocative and provocateur all in the same person. Vote for Trump because you will be proud to say “that’s my President.” Don’t vote for Trump because you may have to say “I can’t believe that my President.” He will convince you to a one night stand, but you may regret it in the morning.
Cruz is a champion debater with Ivy League pedigree, but despite a history of competitive articulation Cruz seems to find a way to say the wrong thing almost as much as Trump. It is not that Cruz lacks delivery, but that his usually carefully selected words are just too extreme. A New York Times article noted that while Cruz was a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Rehnquist, he seemed obsessed with the gruesome details of capital punishment cases and frequently ruffled feathers with other clerks.
Republican candidates are cookie cuts of each other. What separates them seems to be the level of their commitment to the Republican ideals. Are you tough enough on immigration, foreign policy and staunch against government hand-outs, yet soft enough on gun control? Where Trump is bombastic, Cruz is the resolute and straightforward hardliner. Trump wants a moratorium on Muslims entering the country to curb ISIS sympathizing, while Cruz dreams of days of carpet bombing ISIS to test his theory of whether sand glows in the dark. Who says “carpet bombing” anymore, even if you believe it? Trump is amenable to allowing deported persons to return and someday become citizens while Cruz perishes the thought.
Cruz is from the tough red state of Texas while Trump apparently holds liberal “New York values.” Who in their right mind insults New Yorkers after 9/11? New Yorkers are forever untouchable. Anything Trump can do, Cruz can out-hardline him. Like the metellina spider, it may only be safe to court and bed Cruz in political matrimony when you know he has been sufficiently tied down. Anything short of that may end up with you as his dinner.
But, there may be hope for Cruz. Ironically, this Republican stickler has been ensnared by the new birther movement. Is Trump potentially going to turn Cruz into a martyr by attacking a decision beyond Cruz’s control? If you have not heard yet, Cruz was born in Canada. Is Cruz going to be the Republican Latino Obama? Everyone loves the underdog, especially a minority whose loyalty is called into question. Although the Republican Party is a bit embarrassed by both Cruz and Trump, Cruz is more in line with the classic conservative Republicans, whereas Trump is a black-sheep. However, Cruz’s extremism has ruffled some party feathers. Former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole has claimed that Cruz is a worse for the Republican Party than Trump.
You would not know it from the attention Bernie Sanders is getting, but Clinton leads in the polls. This is a remarkable feat considering she has to convince voters that women can become President – albeit this is being done by walking softly and giving an appearance of carrying a big stick. Then she has to fight off Benghazi-gate and perhaps worse, email-gate. If that’s not enough, Clinton manages to cleverly dodge questions on how she supported one thing then supported the opposite. She does this by saying with a straight face that she has always been consistent. The ability to say A and then not-A is a Clintonian trademark. Bill Clinton did not “have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky,” until he did actually have sexual relations with her. Like a true politician, Hillary Clinton capitalizes on her alleged flip-flops by painting them as a natural, if not necessary, progression of her philosophy in order to keep up with the shifting national progressive zeitgeist. Her argument is short of brilliant. In other words, what type of politician would she be if she did not change her opinion? Well, she would be a Republican conservative.
What makes Clinton exciting just as much as her political adeptness is what causes her to reinvent herself, Bernie Sanders. Where the Republicans fight over whose is more conservative, the democrats fight over who is more progressive-liberal. But on the democratic side the argument is more nuanced. It is not just who is more progressive, but who can express the progressive philosophy and not abandon the capitalistic thinking that makes America who she is. In other words, who represents the best amalgamation of social progressiveness and sufficient economic conservatism? Who can fight the banks, save the poor from vulture capitalism, shrink income inequality yet keep our core capitalistic values intact? Or as Clinton puts it, “save capitalism from itself.” It is not an easy task when the modern permutation of capitalism seems to run afoul of social programs. But, Clinton appears to be winning that battle.
Bernie Sanders is the democratic socialist. He has done the unthinkable by changing “socialism” from being a pejorative. Not that long ago, some tried to derail Obama’s nomination and continued to accuse him after his election of being a “socialist.” A candidate had to defend against the “s” label if they hoped to win the nomination. Today, Bernie Sanders celebrates it. This coming out of the closet for socialism is the product of income inequality, economic recession, Black Lives Matter, mass gun shootings and a growing number of politically concerned young voters. Sanders is riding this wave and the millennials love him. On Court Street in Brooklyn, people seeking signatures to put Sanders on the ballot are clearly millennials, but is that enough? Will they show up at the ballot when it matters most?
America has never seen a socialist quite like Sanders. Perhaps Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a socialist with the many programs he introduced. However, FDR’s socialism was a product of the circumstances facing America, the Great Depression. Similarly, Sanders is seemingly benefiting from the Great Recession. Unlike FDR, Sanders has long been socialist leaning. Sanders’ brand of “democratic socialism” includes hallmarks of what plagues the middleclass and working poor: minimum wage, banking regulations, 40-hr work week, and retirement benefits. It is this draw that has perhaps caused Hillary to shift her own positions knowing that if she fails to catch the wave with Sanders she may lose out on precious young voters. But again, can the millennials be trusted to show up at the polls? We saw how Occupy Wall Street fizzled into memory. Even after Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, when it was time for elections, the crowd of BLM protesters did not flood the voting booths. Why should we believe the same will not be true of the socialist uprising come election time? Is Sanders our socialist savior? We shall see.
This may turn out to be the greatest election of our times. The parties are in flux. Some of the leading candidates for both parties are an embarrassment to their respective intellectual loyalists. These off-kilter candidates hover on the fringe edges of radicals and demagogues of the party. The Democrats have not been spared of radicals either. Where Trump and Cruz may be viewed as extreme right wingers, Sanders is an extreme left-winger. This is not a criticism, but an observation. Sanders is an embarrassment to his party and not the type of Democrat that progressive intellectuals dream of supporting as the face of their party. Many may not want to see it, but a Trump v. Sanders election will pit two candidates that are polar opposites – the super-capitalist v. the super-socialist. A Cruz v. Clinton election will be a bit more predictable and status quo.