In a perfect world, all voters would have the time and intelligence to sit down and pore over a politician's background and stances on issues. But this is America, dammit, and we like our news the way we like our food: fast and kind of disgusting. That's why every election, politicians keep serving us up the same crap -- stuff that has nothing to do with their ability to lead. And we keep swallowing it down as if Burger King just released a new Frankenfood.
#7. Using Someone's Death To Advance An Agenda
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I graduated high school and college with a woman called Kate Steinle. If that name sounds vaguely familiar to you, it's because last year she was shot and killed by an undocumented immigrant in San Francisco. Since then, some politicians, particularly Donald Trump, have used her death to try to provoke fear in people that all undocumented immigrants are in fact rapists and killers, as if crossing a border without permission acts as the necessary serum to turn Dr. Jekylls into Senor Hydes.
The guy from Fantasy Island tried to warn us.
I'm calling bullshit. Now, Kate and I were not close by any means. We probably only said a few words to each other, ever. But I was in her orbit for long enough to recognize, for the first time, that the random name a politician was throwing around had been attached to an actual person, and not a cartoon character who came complete with "boing" sounds when she dropped things. It pissed me off, and even affected our class's ability to mourn:
Her brother wasn't having it either, going on CNN and telling Anderson Cooper, "Donald Trump talks about Kate Steinle like he knows her. I've never heard a word from his campaign manager, I've never heard a word from him. It's disconcerting. I don't want to be affiliated with someone who doesn't have the common courtesy to reach out and ask about Kate, and our political views and what we want."
It's especially upsetting because lost in the noise of using a pretty young woman's death as a political lightning rod is the fact that it might have been a tragic accident, not the cold-blooded killing it was made out to be.
But I can't be hypocritical about this. I support Hillary Clinton, so I was thrilled when the sister of Chris Stevens, the ambassador killed in Benghazi, came out and said that her family didn't blame Clinton for Stevens's death. But now I hope she never uses that to try to deflect any blame people try to place on her. He was just as real as Kate Steinle, and I'll never know how he would have felt. Or if he would have made "boing" sounds when he dropped things. Sorry, I've been watching a lot of Cartoon Network lately.
#6. Their Parents' Or Grandparents' Jobs
I'd like to tell you about my grandmother. She is a great woman, who was widowed young and raised three boys on her own in one of the poorest areas of rural Kentucky, all while holding down a job cooking meals at the local hospital and practicing her ninja spin kicks. This information has not affected my life in any real way, but if I ever decide to run for office, that shit right there is gold.
Politicians love to talk about their parents and grandparents. And that's fine, to an extent. After all, they shaped us into who we are, be it beacons of hope for America or bloviating turd-burglars. But there comes a point where it stops being about how proud you are of your family and becomes a competition to see whose relatives had it the hardest.
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"Cheer up, kid. Your son's probably a six-term senator."
You see this all the time in debates. One by one, the candidates will bring up the tragic backstory of a parent or grandparent, each one trying to outdo the other. Here's Ted Cruz from one of this year's many Republican debates, talking about how his father left Cuba with just a hundred dollars IN HIS UNDERWEAR and then took a job washing dishes for 50 cents an hour.
It's a good thing he included that underwear detail. Without it, how would people know what to think about Cruz's plan to balance the budget?
You have to walk a fine line, though. You want your relative to have been poor, but not on welfare or any other government programs. No being homeless or anything too tragic, either. Dignified poverty, if you will. And if you have a relative who actually did well for themselves? Unless you're a Bush or a Clinton or a Romney and can't get away with hiding it, don't mention those people. Apparently, there is a hierarchy of jobs that are more "American," with barely-above-the-poverty-line blue collar ones being the best.
#5. Their Pets
Pete Souza/White House via Getty Images
Did you watch then-President-elect Obama's victory speech in 2008? It was about 45 minutes long. I assume he said a lot of things about bringing the country together and making it better and other hopey-changey stuff, but I only remember 20 seconds of it:
If you didn't click that, it's Obama telling his daughters that they have earned the new puppy that is coming with them to the White House. That is cute as fuck right there. And like everything politicians do, it was totally calculated to make him look good.
Presidents basically have to have pets to make them seem more human and less like cyborgs that run on money and the power of the Constitution. What kind of pets they have and how they treat them are huge. We've told you before about some of the weirder choices, but in general, presidents need to have a dog. It was considered odd when the Clinton's entered the White House with only their cat, Socks. When they got a Labrador, Buddy, in 1997, many people saw him as nothing more than a political prop, especially as Buddy appeared only a month before the Lewinsky scandal broke.
Just try thinking about where he put his dick now.
In the past, presidential dogs have been the cause of scandal themselves. FDR had a Scottie named Fala that he brought with him everywhere and was a national celebrity. But Congress threatened to investigate Roosevelt after a rumor started that he had sent a destroyer to pick up the dog after it was left behind in the Aleutian Islands (it hadn't been). When Lyndon Johnson picked up one of his beagles, Him, by the ears to pose for a photo, the country went apeshit, to the point where he had to officially apologize.
It took ages to give out all those belly rubs.
And in 1952, when Richard Nixon, then the Republican candidate for vice president, was caught taking money and gifts he wasn't supposed to, he made a half-hour televised speech defending himself. What was the only thing people remembered from that speech? That Nixon said he refused to give back a dog he had been given, which his children had already named Checkers. It went down in history as the "Checkers Speech," and it was maybe the one time Nixon came off kind of likable and not a bloated sack of lies.
#4. Being Outdoorsy
According to the people whose job it is to know this stuff, only 6 percent of Americans went hunting in 2011. But you would never know it from the number of staged photo ops of politicians, gun in hand, ready to take the life of an animal in the hopes of getting a few more votes. I don't think you have to be a hemp-wearing vegan to find that a little sick.
In 2007, Mike Huckabee went on a pheasant hunt that was conveniently taped. He wasted no time in showing off the three birds he killed on his YouTube page:
But that pales in comparison to the shoot he went on in 2015, where he flat-out exploded a bird. His people were so excited about this that they actually put it in an ad. TAKE THAT, ISIS.
It's even worse when Democrats try this tactic, since they have to walk the fine line between getting the hunter vote while not angering animal right supporters. When John Kerry went on a much-mocked goose hunt in 2004, he was the only one of the group who didn't hold up a carcass, and journalists noted that he made sure to hide his bloodied hand from the cameras.
Honestly, he could have gone all Carrie with the blood, and it still wouldn't have made up for this image.
But at least Kerry had a bit of a hunting history he could point to. When the equally elitist Mitt Romney claimed he had been a "lifelong hunter," he was suddenly faced with the problem of looking like a liar or a lawbreaker, since it was revealed he had never taken out a hunting license in any of the states he'd lived in. He clumsily attempted to clarify that he had always hunted "small varmints," and compared himself to Jed Clampett from The Beverly Hillbillies. At least he got the Beverly Hills part right.
But hunting is far from the only physical pastime that they use to try to look virile. Ronald Reagan had lots of pictures of himself on horseback, while George W. Bush made sure that everyone knew he spent most of the time at his ranch clearing brush.
"Nope, Bin Laden's not under there!"