Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Who is "Candidate X?"

Just as the election was heating up, the "Candidate X"-supporting New York Times published an interesting little article entitled: 'Is Candidate X Crazy?" The story examined several of the Candidate’s utterances and claimed that they were not the workings of a rational mind. The Times editors also included a letter from a distinguished psychologist stating that if "Candidate X" won the election, “there would be a madman in the White House.” The paper then interviewed several more psychologists and published the results two days later. These eminent medical geniuses said that "Candidate X" suffered from megalomania and paranoia. One expert said simply: "I don't think 'Candidate X' is ordinarily crazy....but I should like to examine him as a degenerate."

Who is "Candidate X?"

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

It used to be very peaceful pre-Labor Day....

JFK sailing at Hyannis Port. Ike relaxing with Mamie at Gettysburg. Jimmy Carter tilling the Georgia red soil. William Jennings Bryan getting a satisfying rub-down with gin, a practice he felt stimulated his nerve endings and increased circulation. (He smelled like he drank it, but he didn't.)
Everyone taking a break from the tumultuous business of conventions (Congress in recess, of course) waiting for the cooling air of September before they heated up the campaigns.

That was the way presidential campaigns used to spend their end of summer days.

 But no longer. Donald Trump started things off with intemperate attacks on the Khan family. Thousands of new Hillary emails revealed. And of course, the latest and saddest Anthony Weiner escapade, which Trump has taken advantage of to once again lambast Hillary for being irresponsible: "I only worry for the country that Hillary Clinton was careless and negligent in allowing Weiner to have such close proximity to highly classified information."

This probably all got started with the Swift-boating of John Kerry, back in 2004, but there really oughta be a law against August campaigning. People are  hot. Tempers are short. Instead of relaxing photo ops of our nominees swimming and playing golf, we have to watch them grimly duking it out and think, Oh, God, we actually have months more of this to go.

Perhaps that gin bottle isn't a bad idea, after all....

Thursday, October 29, 2015

This is not a cage match? Of course it is.

Last night at the most fun Republican candidate debate to date, Ted Cruz told the CNBC moderators, with the kind of pompous indignation politicians the world over are famous for: "This is not a cate match."

But of course it is. You have ten candidates squaring off against each other on national television, most of them desperate in the extreme--John Kasich's shrill attacks being a case in point--and, yeah, you are going to get some kickboxing and flying teeth.

None of this, though, was anything compared with the first JFK/Nixon debate back in 1960, which made one man, and destroyed the other. Herewith a small sample from the new edition of Anything For A Vote, which was published yesterday. And, by the way, thank you to radio stations from Boston to Cedar Rapids for having me on your shows. I can barely talk, but I had a great time.

Test Prep As your school teachers undoubtedly told you, there is a right way and a wrong way to prepare for the big test.

The “wrong” way: Richard Nixon shows up in Chicago at midnight the day before the debate, exhausted from barnstorming through eleven states and plagued by a recurrent fever. The next morning, instead of resting, he gives a major speech and then spends six hours in his hotel room by himself, studying policy reports and refusing to see anyone. Then he heads for the television studio. His temperature is over 100 degrees. Instead of wearing regular makeup for television, he insists on smearing something called Lazy Shave, a kind of talcum powder, which casts his face in a ghostly pallor. And he agrees that the debate can take place with both candidates standing—something the Democrats, aware of his hurt knee, insist on.
The “right” way: Kennedy shows up in Chicago a day and a half before the debate and asks an aide, “Any girls lined up?” On the day of the debate, he gets a suntan on the roof the Palmer House Hotel, has lunch with some friends, and then “studies” in his hotel room by doing Q&A sessions with staff while lying on the bed in his underwear. Ninety minutes before the debate starts, Kennedy slips into a room where a call girl awaits and emerges fifteen minutes later, according to an aide, “with a big grin on his face.” Then he dashes to the television studio, arriving only moments before the debate. 

Sixty million Americans watched the debate, and millions more listened to the radio broadcast. Most listeners (not viewers) thought that Nixon had won. But those who tuned in to their televisions saw a poised, cool, and confident Kennedy and a strained, tired-looking Nixon whose makeup seemed to be streaking with sweat over his five o’clock shadow. Afterward, Nixon’s mother called to ask if he was ill; in fact, he was fighting off the effects of a debilitating infection that arose after he banged his knee on a car door earlier in the campaign. Although the candidates had three more debates to go—in which Nixon looked much more refreshed and confident—it is the first one in Chicago that voters, and American history, remembered. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Blood-red moon over Washington

Tonight is a rare "super moon" lunar eclipse, in which a blood red moon will cast its vermilion shadow on North America and Washington D.C., presumably bathing the Capitol Building in blood. And why not? House Speaker John A. Boehner's resignation forebodes an even nastier fight over defunding Planned Parenthood, or shutting down the government, than before.

It's difficult to remember when one party has been riven by such an intense level of in-house animosity. It is so hard to get House speakers to resign willingly (the last being Tip O'Neill in 1987) that it is almost as rare as that supermoon eclipse. And therefore, Boehner must have felt pressed remarkably hard to leave. Perhaps next the Republicans will be attacking each other with silver-headed canes, as South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks did to Senator Charles Sumner in 1856. Or maybe we should bring back the duel--plenty of congressmen back in the early days used to line up to take potshots--lead ones,that is--at each other.

What does this presage for the presidential contest? Hard to say. I believe, against many pundits, that there is room for a Republican moderate to take a firm stand (he will be backed by the polls, which show that most people abhor the type of brinkmanship politics being played by the Republican right) in favor of principled compromise. 'Firm stand' being the key phrase. In presidential elections, it is all about picking your enemy and never wavering, no matter how much blood gets spilled.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Trigger Warnings

Trigger warnings are all the rage in the world of the academe--many professors now let students know when a particular reading assignment may contain sex or violence, lest these trigger some difficult incident from the students' pasts.

It's my feeling, after viewing the last two Republican debates, that candidates should come with their own trigger warnings, perhaps helpfully dispensed by a little runner across the bottom of the screen. Donald Trump? "May Cause Dementia of Hair Follicles." Carly Fiorina? "She Is A Bit Headache-Inducing." Ben Carson? "Narcoleptics Beware!"

"God Might Strike You Dead" if you disagree with Mike Huckabee, at least to hear him tell it. And Jeb Bush?  "Well, Yes, He Is A Bush!" (He also thinks Myanmar is still called Burma, but that's another story.)

It is so good to be back at the beginning of another campaign season. The latest edition of Anything For A Vote: Dirty Tricks, Cheap Shots and October Surprises in U.S. Presidential Campaigns will be out on October 27, updated and revised to 2012. (Preorder it here.) It is my job to remind you that the more things change in our national election contests, the more they remain the same. Sure you've got Republican candidates snarling at each other (soon the Democrats), but has Trump called Jeb Bush "a fathead with the brains of a guinea pig," as Teddy Roosevelt once dubbed William Howard Taft? Has Bush riposted that Trump is a "hideous hermaphrodite?" That's what Thomas Jefferson (via his cackling hack writer James Callender) called John Adams.

And when, in 1864, General George McClellan sneered that Abraham Lincoln was "nothing more than a well-meaning baboon," well, you know that even a Trump or Huckabee couldn't match this level of invective. But I kind of hope that they do. Because then the trigger warning could read: "In The Grand Old Tradition of 19th Century America Politicking, Here Comes A Real Election!"

Candidates, don't let me down.