Home > Critic-At-Large > Goin' to Washington
Goin' to Washington
By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
It's unfortunate that Election Day always follows Halloween by just a few days in the United States, for invariably some lame-brain candidate will try to make a jab against his opponent and tie it in with the holiday: "You think Halloween is scary, well, just imagine a country where XXX gets elected; that will be the real nightmare!" Often the candidate-wordsmith will try to make the inevitable "trick or treat" slam as well, again hypothesizing about what a "trick" it would be on the electorate if the other guy were to gain office.
We're still a couple of weeks away from Halloween but mark my words: the "trick or treat" line is a slam-dunk. I'm not sure what election will yield this particular bon mot, but my guess is that it'll probably happen across the nation in innumerable state and local races. It happens every single November election. Thank God there's no Presidential election this year, but that's just delaying the inevitable. The Halloween joke will be in play in 2016 as well, on a national scale.
It's the kind of thing that make you hate everything about elections and the dumbification of the process. What makes the joke particularly infuriating to me is that every candidate who utilizes is convinced that he is the first person in history to come up with such a brilliant witticism, when it's become as much of an autumnal tradition as pumpkin-carving or wearing cardigan sweaters. In fact, every election cycle seems to deliver the exact same lines and jokes and themes and yet every candidate and campaign manager are convinced that they're blazing a brand new trail.
It's incomprehensible to me that so many American presidential candidates continue to work "the outsider" angle in campaign after campaign. Every four years, most of the leading candidates maintain that they are above the traditional, "Washington politics as usual" crowd and are maverick, free-thinking outsiders who have yet to be perverted by the political machine. As if they are some home-spun, small-town Mr. Smith who will go to Washington and shame the cynical power brokers by their common-sense, inherent American decency. When, in fact, most presidential candidates are almost virally connected to the biggest heavy-hitters in the political parties. I guess we're supposed to think it's just a coincidence that so many "regular folks" still manage to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for their particular campaign. (The singular campaign of Bernie Sanders is the noteworthy exception; Sanders is trying to run as clean and honest a campaign as possible, foregoing the huge donors and instead relying on small contributions from a plethora of supporters.) I have no great love for Hillary Clinton but I find it almost refreshing that she's not even attempting to disguise how much of a connected political creature she has become. Of course, it's worth noting that her husband was the original "outsider" of this particular era in American politics.
Hands down, the most ludicrous example of someone working "the outsider" angle had to be George W. Bush, who somehow stuck to the narrative of his "anti-Washington" bona fides against overwhelming evidence to the contrary — his running mate, Dick Cheney, was the Svengali/Rasputin of the Republican Party for decades, and oh yes — his father was the flippin' 41st President of the United States! Yet here was George W., playing the role of the drawling country boy running against the cynical "professional politician" Al Gore. (It was almost as ridiculous a pretense as Bush pretending to be a "Texas boy" through and through when the patriarch of the Bush political family — Prescott Bush — was an East Coast, Connecticut Blue Blood and Wall Street executive.)
And I know, I know, presidential elections are not about issues and positions, they're popularity contests, they're reality television, they're about building the "narrative" or a candidate instead of "revealing" a candidate. But still: when a well-heeled, professional politician insults your intelligence by pretending to be an untainted "outsider," you just want to throw a brick through your television. You want to say, How dumb do you think we are?
It's a full year away from the Presidential elections and already I'm exhausted by the lowest-common-denominator attempts by candidates to dumb down the electorate. Last month I caught some Republican candidate on CNN — I don't remember who it was and I don't care — trying to slam front-runner Donald Trump by saying "We don't need an 'Apprentice' (pause, pause, knowing wink) in the White House." My God, I thought: My God. Who would attempt such a pathetic, idiotic joke? That line wouldn't work on a relatively sophisticated third-grader. And yet the candidate is trying to pawn it off on adults? You have to wonder what the guy could possibly be thinking. It's like watching Mike Huckabee's trainwreck of a campaign — Huckabee has been trying to plane the edges of his truly repellent Reactionary craziness (everything is the Holocaust) by portraying himself as a folksy, seed-spittin' country boy who has a whole bushel-full of backwoods smarts. I don't know what demographic he's shooting for here, for any rational voter could only conclude from Huckabee's exhortations that he's either, a), insane, or b), a returning cast member from the defunct television show "Hee Haw."
But maybe I'm simply underestimating the ol' rascal. Maybe ol' Mike knows a thing or two, maybe he knows a hawk from a handsaw, maybe ol' Mike knows you gotta measure twice and cut once. Maybe I'm the one who can't see through a wall in time, or whatever the hell the expression is. Because you know what else ol' Mike is? Ol' Mike is an "outsider." And you know how well we just plumb love them outsider guys.