Those of you who follow my column probably don't think of me as a particularly politically oriented writer, because ... yeah, all things considered, I'm not one. Still, that doesn't mean I don't follow politics, in my own mildly slack-jawed, "slowest kid in the class watching pro wrestling" kind of way. To keep with that clumsy analogy, I've learned to recognize certain political equivalents of setups to finishers, spot moves, and identify other manipulative crowd-pleasing antics. What I don't understand is why the media keeps treating these absurdist antics as individual instances instead of the extremely common, widespread political strategies that they really are.
So, armed with my political expertise of [armpit fart noises] and [actual fart noises], I thought now would be as good a time as any to look into some of the strange-seeming, yet common and oddly effective ways the people who want us to vote for them sneakily yank our chains in the desired direction. For instance ...
#4. Playing The Fool Is A Surprisingly Effective Political Strategy
Most every election in recent history, regardless of the level, has featured at least one wacky-ass joke candidate with statements and opinions so far-fetched, it soon becomes evident they're not fit to lead a fucking parade. So how could they ever expect to get anywhere? Are they really that delusional? Or are a worrying percentage of political candidates just out there for a laugh?
Well, yeah, some of them probably are. But I'll wager some of them are adopting this strategy very deliberately, because sometimes the joke character wins the day. Ridiculous candidates can and absolutely do get elected in various positions all the time. In 2010, comedian Jon Gnarr went full ... well, comedian on Iceland during Reykjavik's city council elections, running as the "Best Party" candidate, promising to break all his promises, and generally behaving like a loon. His campaign amused people, so they voted him in, and he ended up the mayor.
The history of politics has plenty of crazy underdog stories like that. If the political climate is right -- like if the last umpteen incumbents have sucked absolute monkey balls or socioeconomic circumstances dictate a heavy protest mood -- the "joke" candidate can become a viable option in the voters' heads. This is not always a bad thing. For instance, Gnarr seems to be doing a pretty fine job. But, sometimes, the joke candidate is completely unfit for the job for reasons of not even being human: In 1967, a brand of freaking foot powder was elected mayor of a small Ecuadorian town, thanks to a successful ad campaign. And not even the drug euphemism kind of foot powder.
Donald Iain Smith/Moment/Getty Images
To be fair, it's rare to find a candidate that can actually do something for your personal well-being.
These are not just those "wacky foreigner" B.S. stories the media likes to bullshit us with every once in a while. Thanks to various protest votes, gaffes, and other strange curveballs, America has seen dogs, cats, mules, and Austrian bodybuilders voted into some political position or another over the years.
Of course, there's a limit to how high up the mountain a politician can survive with this particular climbing equipment. As folks like Ben Carson, Rick Santorum, and Vermin Supreme (it's worth noting that, as far as we know, only one of these people is actually a performance artist) have helpfully and repeatedly demonstrated, the joke candidates -- whether deliberate or accidental -- tend to remain decidedly in the fringe when it comes to serious candidacies of the leader-of-the-free-world sort.
#3. Ridiculously Cartoonish Heroics Make Them Seem Stronger (But Only To Their Supporters)
Politicians need to appear heroic. That's how they get support -- by essentially invoking the old hero-king trope humanity's had a boner for since the Sumerian times. "Accept me as your ruler. I will fight for your way of life. I can protect you." That has been the bare-boned message behind every single serious political campaign ever since our rulers actually had to do that sort of thing instead of just riding into the town square and threatening to behead everyone.
Colin Anderson/Blend Images/Getty Images
*sigh* "If only ..."
It's just that even within a single nation, political and cultural sensibilities vary widely, and for a politician, there's no such thing as mainstream appeal. Even the most popular politician will always have nearly half of the nation against them, solely because of their party alignment. The people who support, say, Jeb Bush can easily consider someone like Bernie Sanders a senile softie who wants to turn the whole nation into a hippie hug-a-thon, while Sanders' proponents consider Bush to be yet another puppet upholder of family traditions of invading desert countries. But for their own camps, both are heroes, so those are the eyes they shape their public image for, aiming for the lowest common denominator to rake in as many semi-like-minded supporters as they can.
As a flipside of that coin, this creates a weird situation where that image can be downright cartoonish to everyone else -- which is most of the people. Hell, if you support Ted Cruz, there's a very fair chance you see the "Fight me, bro" debate challenge he threw at Obama as a brave, honorable move instead of, say, a weaselly attempt at attention and some cheap pops.
The hero principle gets even more ridiculous on the global scale, where cultural differences further muddy the image puddle. Consider Vladimir Putin, who's notorious for crafting his public image as a Chuck Norrisian memetic badass, thanks to carefully chosen ubermensch imagery like this:
Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images News/Getty Images
"Bond villain? I eat Bond villains."
To the average Westerner, an image of a president straight-up Monty Burnsing in a supervillain submarine is something you'd expect to see in a bad action movie. But for a considerable segment of his own citizens, he's the term "hardcore" personified, because he's their president, on their side. "I will fight for you. I will protect you." Meanwhile, I'll bet that many of those same Russians are looking at patriotic photo-ops like this:
Reuters/Larry Downing via SMH
"Can we do the volleyball scene with Iceman next?"
... and shaking their heads. "God-fucking-dammit; those Americans are at it again. Why must they turn their presidents into cartoon superheroes?"