NB: I’m a registered Democrat, but not a terribly leftist one. I’m a Democrat the way most college students are Democrats, I suspect – by default.
I’ve been thinking about the circus that is the Republican nomination race. You should know that I’m not a politics nut, nor do I plan on being one – but the state of my society does interest me sometimes. The GOP right now is both amusing and extremely sad. A series of caricatures who have served their time as one-month fads leaves me wondering about the state of American politics. The string of slip-up clips zooming through the internet and the idiotic things that these candidates have said might receive too much focus, according to some – but I think that the dismal communication and public speaking skills of the candidates this year is itself something to be concerned about, before even delving into their political views (too complicated for me to do any justice).
Bachman's disastrous Newsweek cover
Michele Bachmann was kind of the first fad of the GOP, and was slammed repeatedly for her bizarre and factually inaccurate comments in public – waxing poetic about New Hampshire, calling it “the state where the shot was heard round the world in Lexington and Concord,” while Lexington and Concord are actually in Massachusetts. She commented on the census, saying that “[My family] won’t be answering any information beyond [number of people in our household], because the Constitution doesn’t require any information beyond that,” which also isn’t true – the Constitution mandates citizens to fill out census forms. Or this gem about carbon dioxide: “carbon dioxide is not a harmful gas, it is a harmless gas. Carbon dioxide is natural. It is not harmful. It is part of Earth’s life cycle…And yet we’re being told that we have to reduce this natural substance and reduce the American standard of living to create an arbitrary reduction in something that is naturally occurring in the earth.” The woman is not a good speaker – she is clearly grasping for patriotic straws when she calls forth grand images of the Revolutionary War, and clearly grasping for Tea Party straws when she pigheadedly and uneducatedly dismisses the idea of global warming. This kind of saying-anything-to-please-a-crowd is not, not at all, a quality one should accept in a presidential candidate.
Rick Perry: Oops
Rick Perry was always too much like GWB to stand a chance. Not terribly substantial – seemed like the kind of guy I’d like to have a beer with but, like W, doesn’t even seem like he’d want to be the president, at the end of the day. I think the stress of even the race was too much for him.
Screenshot from Cain's abysmal campaign commercial
When Herman Cain was declared frontrunner of the Republican Party, it was the last time that I was surprised/horrified at the state of the GOP candidates. Herman Cain, who attended Glenn Beck’s rally in Israel. Herman Cain, who said: “When they ask me who’s the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan, I’m going to say, ‘You know, I don’t know. Do you know?'” Herman Cain, who said: “I don’t have facts to back this up, but I happen to believe that these demonstrations are planned and orchestrated to distract from the failed policies of the Obama administration.” Herman Cain, who is a terrible, terrible candidate and appears to be willfully ignorant of foreign policy – or, at least, he imagines that that image is more desirable than utilizing his education.
So once Newt Gingrich was declared frontrunner, the GOP picking terrible candidates was sort of an expected pattern. Newt Gingrich was disgraced in the ’90s for having the worst Speakership in history – he suggested that the government shutdown was a personal attack against him, was the first Speaker of the House to receive ethical sanctions, and resigned in disgrace, commenting: “My only fear would be that if I tried to stay, it would just overshadow whoever my successor is.” I remember his name being the punch-line of jokes when I was a kid.
Also, he calls himself Newt, and he runs under “NEWT 2012”. Even without his ludicrous political career, no president should have an animal name, I’ve decided.
So why, why is the GOP choosing candidates whom I can mock by just quoting things that they actually said? Why are voters sashaying from Neo-Sarah-Palin to Neo-George-W. to Foreign-Policy-Knowledge-Have-Not to Only-Slightly-More-Desirable-As-A-President-Than-An-Actual-Newt?
An attack on the speaking skills of candidates might seem petty, but the speech- and communication- related responsibilities of the United States President are nothing to be neglected. I do suspect that the pressure on a candidate is more intense than in any other political position, and that slips in speech are widely a result of that pressure combined with the rabidness of the amusing-slip-up-snatching-and-amplifying media, but I also think that our standards for the public speaking skills of our president should be high. The pressure on candidates to not commit to anything – to sound good without making any promises – has caused the degeneration of political debates into a rhetoric-slinging festival resembling arguing grade schoolers.
These people are politicians – they have college degrees – they were popular enough to make it into the political scene and be elected to (in most cases) at least one high government office and run it with some level of competence. At least, that’s what I stubbornly assume, as I am afraid to allow myself to abandon all my hope in the political system. So let’s assume that the candidates are fairly competent and can sometimes speak without sounding like grade schoolers. Why, then, is everything about the GOP race so ridiculous?
I think that the 2012 GOP race so far demonstrates the logical extreme of a system built on fear of commitment and fear of offending even the most idiotic constituents. Noncommital and pretty-sounding political doublespeak is ridiculous in itself and always has been; in this year’s race, the insipid rhetoric has been deconstructed to reveal its logical core: nonsense. Politicians have been trained to say nothing for a long time; instead of learning what they need to know, they only need to be able to appear to know it; we are beginning to see the evidence of this more obviously. And with it, the apparent neglect of the American public to remember that the President is not only a likeable face, but the Commander in Chief of our army; not only a spearhead for conservative/liberal policy (depending on his/her affiliation, obvs.) but a position with the opportunity to encourage negotiation between the two sides of Congress and a key communicator with heads of state of other countries. And that is why the state of the GOP leanings isn’t just amusing – it’s dismal. Discouraging. One can only hope that the nominee will be someone we can take seriously.