The election in 2020 is a great window into the state of politics, but more so the state of control by the constructed system. The fact that over 20 candidates entered into the democratic nomination race is a well-worn joke but offers us a glimpse of the control and feedback system that is in play today. Politics and politicians have entered a realm where it is no longer what you have done and how you can coordinate pieces of a party that matters – only what demographic mix you reflect.
One can argue all of democracy’s history is like this. The counter is that the changing manner in which candidates are marketed and have their message spread has made it more overt. In prior decades, machines would select men who could connect the message to the get-out-the-vote machines in cities. Individuals would prove themselves by knowing through power players how to get projects done, knowing parliamentary rules and procedures, and knowing how to assemble teams to enact policy or win an election. Anyone could say they wanted to build a bridge, but did they have the support of the union leaders, construction magnets, and real estate developers to get it through a state legislature? This is the difference between an armchair politician and a true political operator.
Radio was a game changer. It is well known how FDR used the radio during the depression to push his failed policies. Another successful politician who used the radio to great effect was Huey Long. FDR managed to keep America believing in his New Deal throughout a Depression that deepened and carried on for years. What makes Long special is that he had to destroy the state machine from the outside before he could take power. Long then used the radio to express his “share the wealth” idea nationwide. Father Coughlin built a nationwide base of voters that would follow his direction. Radio allowed eloquent or captivating speakers to pull in votes that they otherwise would have missed.
Radio was a small step. A large step of course was recognized in the famous 1960 presidential debates between Kennedy and Nixon. It is claimed radio listeners thought Nixon won but TV viewers thought Kennedy won. Suddenly the visual and aesthetic appeal of a candidate mattered. The height of a candidate mattered. This does not detract from B list actor Ronald Reagan or JFK as coordinators. Reagan had a clear track record as governor to make the leap to president. One can read The Making of the President 1960 by Theodore White to see that the Kennedy campaign was an awesome endeavor involving scores of talent. Still, the idea of aesthetics came to the forefront.
Another great book to read is The Selling of the President by Joe McGinniss that details the television campaign to sell Richard Nixon to American voters. They had to work around Nixon’s negative reputation and the less than Hollywood leading man looks. This was a fantastic campaign program seeking an emotional response from viewers, with Nixon narrating problems and the solutions he would provide.
This change seemed to climax with the election of 2008, with Barack Obama capturing the presidency. Here was a candidate who had no accomplishments, a mysterious background, his past under seal, but at the right moment with help from a financial crash, he not only turned out amazing voter participation, but won the presidency. Even as a state senator he did nothing (vote present) as he was pushed by others within Illinois to reach DC. Enough of the national system agreed that an empty suit cipher was worth pushing over well known Clinton. Obama‘s resume for president is the most pathetic in history. It did not matter though because what mattered was the demographic and credential checklist.
A decade later, we now see that the Obama style candidate is the mold going forward. If we look at Representative Omar from Minnesota what we see is the left desperately looking for a cute Somali woman that they can sell to the Somali community and white liberals. Omar is telegenic, petite and non-threatening. She had enough criminal problems and background issues, but she was the best they could find for marketing to voters. The same goes for Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. Anyone who has seen Bronx residents knows that AOC is the exception, not the rule. The true coordinators and operators seek the proper candidate who hits enough boxes on a checklist to be a puppet. The puppetry has become far more overt.
It’s easy to look at 2020 Democrat potential nominees to see what they reflect. Pete Buttigieg is your gay candidate and even comes from flyover country. He has new accomplishments. Cory Booker is a black male candidate. He has no accomplishments and his city is worse than when he took over. Julian Castro has no accomplishments, but is Mexican. Beto O’Rourke has no accomplishments, but is a Gen X slacker type, the manifestation of the liberal urbanite SWPLS, playing the part of Robert Kennedy on amphetamines. There are no accomplished candidates.
Oh wait! There are governors in the race all polling at 2% or less. They are the straight white men elected state wide in purple and blue states. Nothing that they have done matters. No amount of policy enactment or coalition building matters. There is no buzz with their names because the media decides who matters, and they want a proper identity politics candidate. Who are they and what piece of the Democrat tent do they reflect? Even Joe Biden is like this. No accomplishments but he is a symbol of rewinding to 2011, and white center-left voters can fool themselves into thinking voting for him means the psychotic left will disappear.
This is the current state of the American system. Real power does not lie in the presidency. The American left for eight years bemoaned this fact as a way to excuse Obama’s failures. Currently, we see this with President Trump. No matter his efforts a judge somehow finds a way to overturn an EO, a bureaucrat undermines him, or the security services defy him. Bush seemed resigned to the fact that all he could do was play commander in chief as long as he played along. Trump doesn’t even get small troop withdrawals completed. America has reached the figurehead emperor stage. The true power brokers of America may believe this will work. The problem in their future is voter bases disappointed when even the men or women who are just like them cannot do anything. Legitimacy crises await them all.