Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Politicians at the local level can be entertainingly mistake-prone. Whether it was bad grammar or bad temper, bad judgment or bad attitude, we've all known (and loved) mayors, governors and even Congresspeople who managed to get elected in spite of, and in some cases because of, the idiosyncrasies that made them human like the rest of us. Which is to say flawed.
Once someone takes the leap and decides to run for the Senate, the stakes go up a notch. The suits are crisper, the ties more tightly knotted, and the makeup a little more thickly applied. Still, although there's less room for error, a few memorable cranks and crackpots manage to slip in. (Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms, and Rick Santorum all spring to mind.)
But something happens to politicians once they make the cut and become serious Presidential candidates. The closest analogy I can think of is that of a sixty year-old Hollywood actress who, in order to land one of the few roles scripted for a woman her age, must actually resemble, not a woman her age or even a woman thirty years younger, but a woman who doesn't exist. That is, a woman who didn't exist until Hollywood's imagination brought her into being.
This new being is not an older woman who has somehow been magically perfected. In fact, there's something mildly disturbing about her appearance, especially upon closer scrutiny. Because in going to such great lengths to hide the flaws that come with age, she inevitably calls more attention to them.
And so it is too with Presidential candidates, at least the ones with the misfortune of having a shot at winning. Somewhere it was decided that the best way for someone running for the Oval Office to appeal to actual people was to cease to be one him or herself. Any ideosyncrasies are carefully vetted and either tossed out for good or else replaced with the carefully scripted version. What we're left with are candidates bearing so little resemblance to actual people that when they do actually slip up, we greet their misfortune with fascination, if not relish.
A lot of it has to do with the political consultants that manage campaigns for the major candidates. A lot of it has to do with the lack of courage or imagination on the part of the candidates themselves. But a lot of it has to do with us, as well. We've come to expect that a sixty year-old actress be without any wrinkles, after all. Even if we know what she's done to get rid of them.