(Published in Business Standard on September 22, 2014)
I love US presidential elections, those media-drunk carnivals of image manipulation.
First off, you’d better be good-looking, depending on what the definition of good-looking is at the time, Bogart or Clooney. I’d bet Jimmy Carter would have a hard time get elected today. This may mean the electorate is shallow, but at least it makes the whole show easier to watch. When you are yourself condemned to a regular audiovisual diet of unshaven, overweight, poorly-spoken Indian politicians brawling in Parliament, an experience about as edifying as being struck repeatedly in the head with a blunt object, you can hardly be blamed for feeling a little wistful about that.
Secondly, in godfearing America, you’d better be devout if you want to be Potus, so I’m not sure that a declared atheist like Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura has a real chance at the top job if he decides to make a bid for it in 2016, despite the real appeal of an ex-pro wrestler in the Oval Office. I cannot but doff my hat to a man who titles his book about US politics Democrips and Rebloodicans, after the Los Angeles Crips and Bloods street gangs. Also, he seriously proposes that the Bush White House not only knew that 9/11 was going to happen, but that they actively wanted it to, which might well consign him to the lunatic fringe forever. Piers Morgan used the word ‘crackpot’ in an increasingly hostile and therefore increasingly enjoyable interview—especially since the audience seemed to be on Jesse’s side. Wild cards like Jesse are less electable, but they make interesting television.
Third, you’d better be very aware of cameras and mikes and leaks. Reagan was burned by it when he said, for a soundcheck: “My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” Obama was burned by it when he told Russian president Medvedev that he’d have “more flexibility” on missile control after the 2012 election. Clinton was burned by a cigar and a very specific variety of leak. And Mitt Romney… well, to be fair, Mitt Romney was addressing a public gathering at the infamous fundraiser, so it’s not so much that he’s been burned than that his primary campaign tool seems to be taking a lit match to his own butt.
It’s been particularly entertaining to watch Mitt Romney undertake a kind of hideous slo-mo self-destruction with nothing but his own big mouth, an item he opens only to insert the 47 percent of his foot that feels entitled to be there. He’s so off-key that his own party is beginning to agree with John Heilemann, whose piece in New York magazine called him “completely craven” and described his candidacy as “serving no higher purpose than his ambition”.
The Republican party seems to be suffering from a version of the chaos and factionalism that plagued our own opposition party after UPA II came to power—a kind of psychic disintegration sparked by the great trauma of being out of power. The GOP has reacted by falling ever further apart. The NDA has reacted by refusing to speak and stomping out of rooms in an almighty sulk, and all but threatening to hold their breath until they turn blue, though why they think this would worry the electorate in the slightest beats me.
I can’t wait for the Presidential debates. With seven weeks to go it’s still a close election, but maybe at the debates Mitt will open his mouth even wider and shove the other 53 percent of his foot in there as well.