Saturday, August 5, 2017

When the Cameras Are Off: Who Are the Politicians?

In Game Change, a journalist account of the 2008 U.S. Presidential race, the two political reporters conducted hundreds of interviews and had unusually close access to the campaigns. As a result, the reporters present some pretty interesting political morsels. For example, Hillary Clinton considered Bill’s administration to have been “a tactical and operational disaster” (p. 43). ouch! She would never have said such a thing in front of a microphone. This raises the question: do we, the voters, know candidates as well as we think we do? I contend that we do not, and, moreover, that this partially explains why we are so surprised when our elected representatives behave less than with maturity while in office.

The book’s overall theme calls attention to the magnitude of the difference between the actual candidates of president and vice president and the images of them that they efficaciously portrayed through an unwittingly complying media. In reading about what the candidates are like in person, I was particularly struck by their foul mouths and what their associated judgments intimate about their characters (or lack thereof). That we, the voters, are not privy to the candidates’ real personalities, characters and values is of great importance because we base our decisions at least in part on the fabricated images, or brands. We are situated too far removed from the actual candidates to be able to discover the people behind the curtain.

A candidate’s public image can differ radically from the actual person. When Hillary Clinton was a U.S. senator from New York, she portrayed herself as bipartisan and self-effacing in the Senate when in fact she was anything but—at least according to Game Change. On the evening of her win in New Hampshire, Hillary remarked privately, “I get really tough when people fuck with me” (p. 190). Referring to Barak Obama to her aides after one of the debates, she remarked, “What an asshole” (p. 145). We the People would never guess at such a remark from how chummy she would be with him in serving as his Secretary of State. Images can be deceiving.

As still another example, consider John Edwards, who said to Brumberger, one of his aides: “Why didn’t you come to me like a fucking man and tell me to stop fucking her?” (p. 134). On the republican side, McCain was “still prone to outbursts of profanity,” which have never been caught on tape during an interview (p. 274). On his first visit to his campaign headquarters, for instance, McCain blurted out, “What the fuck are all these people doing here? . . .  I am not fucking authorizing these fucking hires. Who are these fucking Bush people? Where is the fucking money?” (p. 278). In public, the candidate said, “I’m very happy with the campaign” (p. 285). It is no wonder we have so little actual basis on which to know what our representatives will actually do when in office.

Evidently, the candidates hire like-minded staff, which may mean that the political culture in Washington is saturated with a baseness that we, the People, never see. Harold Ickes of Hillary’s campaign, for example, said of Barak Obama after the Rev. Wright fiasco, “This guy has been sitting in the church for twenty fucking years. If you really want to take him down, let’s take him fucking down” (p. 238). This is not quite the separation of Church and state that we are used to. Ickes’ association of church and “fucking” is itself revealing. It is no wonder the real personalities are intentionally masked. How many candidates could win if they were simply themselves?

There are implications for how our system of government is structured and for its electoral processes. Even though we can’t be blamed for the fake images being fed to us if nothing else is available to us, we are to blame for acquiescing in the elongation of the election season—the 2012 presidential campaign “season,” for instance, began shortly after the 2010 midterm election. Such an elongation simply extends the run of the fake images, rather than making it more likely that we might glimpse the real persons behind the curtain. Furthermore, our ancestors are to blame for expanding popular election into larger and larger electoral districts in which there is more distance between the average voter and the candidates. On the number of electors per candidate, the delegates in the Constitutional Convention warned that in very large electoral districts the people would not be able to get to know their candidates. Contrary to American history from the USA-CSA war to today, we could demand more of our intra-state representatives and less of the elected officials in the U.S. Government. Members of Congress and candidates for president are too good at playing the image game . . . too fucking good . . . and the huge districts enable them to get away with it.


John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime (New York: Harper Collins, 2010).