Friday, August 06, 2010

Running on Empty

One of the small pleasures of any campaign season is watching the candidates attempt to pander to what they view as the "common man". You know, me and you, the voters. Those mouth-breathing, uni-browed slobs whose support is unfortunately needed in order to win. I think this quote from Mr. Burns of The Simpsons best exemplifies the typical attitude candidates bring the process:

Ironic, isn't it Smithers. This anonymous clan of slack-jawed troglodytes has cost me the election, and yet if I were to have them killed, I would be the one to go to jail. That's democracy for you.

It's even more amusing to watch when the candidates actually happen to be out-of-touch, in terms of socio-economic status. In Minnesota, we're lucky enough to have two such cases. Two multimillionaire plutocrats running for governor. And both under the banner of the vestiges of the "Farmer-Labor" party, no less. Ironic, isn't it Smithers.

Both were on display this week when they were forced to jaunt out to the countryside and engage the peasantry at Farm Fest in Redwood Falls, MN. A gubernatorial debate was announced, the slack-jawed troglodytes shuffled in, the aristocrat candidates emerged in their top hats and spats, and hilarity ensued.

Well, not hilarity, but maybe enough to get a few smirks. Doug Grow reported on the affair, which included candidate claims such as this by Mark Dayton:

DFLer Mark Dayton spoke of how earlier generations of Daytons had been farmers.

Considering that Mark Dayton's great grandfather, George Draper Dayton, founded the department store fortune that Mark Dayton is still living off of, in 1902, it's not clear how far back into the mists of history Dayton had to reach to find his farming ancestors. I'm guessing Mesopotamia.

Not to be outdone in the close, personal connection to agriculture, Dayton's fellow nabob candidate stepped to the mic and connected with the farmers in attendance:

Matt Ententza, the third DFLer on the podium, talked of how his great-great-grandfather farmed near Marietta.

Great, great grandfather? That's a mere four generations back. You can practically smell the manure on Entenza's supple Italian calf-skin leather tasseled loafers.

Although he's not leading in the polls right now, Entenza is clearly leading in the embarrassing pandering department. The radio and TV these days are full of Entenza ads, using variations on the theme used in his "Community Ad":

This is Matt Entenza. We all know MN is facing tough challenges, but I've spent my entire life creating opportunities from challenging times.

I was 15 when my Dad left and my mom raised us on her own. We didn't have much money, but we had a community that cared. I had some great teachers, and with hard work and scholarships I was able to go to college and make a better life.. I'm running for Governor to create that kind of opportunity for every family.

The deadbeat dad angle. For some reason his campaign believes that is a key element to his electability. Why? I'm not sure. Because there are so many abandoned families in Minnesota that can relate? Because there are so many deadbeat dads out there who will vote for him out of guilt? This is a critical, sizeable demographic segment that has to be catered to?

It must be, because it shows up in such places as the first paragraph of his official campaign bio:

Worthington provided a home for Matt when his father's alcoholism drove his family to near-bankruptcy and the loss of their home in California.

It shows up in his speech accepting the endorsement by the National Organization of Women:

Growing up without a father I know how powerfully important women are, how strong they can be and the unique challenges they face in the world.

According to the Star Tribune, it shows up nearly every time he opens his mouth while on the stump:

A big part of his energy is devoted to introducing himself to the state. He is quick to tell the story of his wayward father, which has become a signature in his political narrative, always delivered in a spare, unemotional style.

He was raised in Santa Monica, Calif., until he was 15, when his alcoholic father vanished and the family lost their house. With nowhere to turn, the family moved to Worthington to live with his grandmother.

"It was the best thing that ever happened to me," he said.

That's the *best* thing ever in his life? I'll take his word for it, but I presume marrying a woman who turned out to be worth tens of millions is also somewhere in the top 10.

This gratuitous use of perceived suffering, dysfunction, or adversity as a bullet point in a résumé always reminds of the scene in The Bonfire of the Vanities, where a guest at a swank Manhattan cocktail party is introduced as:

SHERMAN: I want you to meet Aubrey Buffing.

JUDY: Who?

SHERMAN: The poet. He's on the short list for the Nobel Prize. He has AIDS. You'll love him.

Perhaps the all-time real world classic in this regard came in 2004. Tom Vilsack, before he was irresponsibly sacking Shirley Sherrod in his current capacity as Secretary of Agriculture, was the Governor of Iowa and a hot property as a potential running mate for John Kerry. The New York Times profiled him as follows (via this July 2004 FL post):

What may be sexiest about Mr. Vilsack as a potential running mate, however, is his life story. Left on a Pittsburgh orphanage's doorstep at birth, he was reared by a father who came from money but lost all of his own, and a mother who escaped into alcohol.

Yes, sexy. In fact, to this day, every time someone reads that paragraph a tingle goes up Chris Matthews' leg.

Mr. Vilsack knows this story has mass appeal and has grown comfortable talking about it with total strangers. "Some people back in those days would take a belt to their child," he says, "but when my mother did it, it wouldn't be the strap part, it'd be the buckle part, so she'd do it till I started bleeding. She'd just whack me. She was sick. She was frustrated, she was angry.

Vote Democrat in 2004!

Actually, that story may not have been sexy enough. John Kerry went with another hard luck millionaire story instead, that son of a millworker himself, John Edwards. And the rest is history.

It just goes to show you how high the bar has been set for personal misery appeals to the electorate. At this late stage, Matt Entenza is going to have to up his game considerably if he is going to secure the vast sick, frustrated, and angry masses of the Minnesota electorate.