My barber told me why he supports Ben Carson for president.
“He’s a real guy; someone who has had to hold down a job and deal with real life, like you and me,” he said.
My barber gets paid more per hair when I’m in his chair than at most other times of the day, so there is ample opportunity for conversation. His opinion was a little confusing, in that Carson’s career as a neurosurgeon doesn’t exactly put him in our social circles. Neither would we fit in with the sorts of folks Donald Trump might invite to dinner. But I got the point.
A lot of folks are tired of people representing them who have spent their lives in politics, even though effective government representation is, of course, all about politics.
Perhaps it partly explains why the 2016 race so far resembles an inane television show more than a serious contest for leadership of the world’s most powerful and influential nation. Everyday people watch TV or look at YouTube videos. The way to their hearts goes through their screens.
Candidates began to learn this lesson when Richard Nixon appeared on the edgy comedy show Laugh In during the 1968 campaign. He was on for only four seconds, repeating the show’s catchphrase “Sock it to me?” Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey reportedly turned down a similar offer, saying it was beneath the office he was seeking.
It’s tempting to rhapsodize about what the current race would look like if Humphrey had won, but that’s futile. You could no more have kept the electronic culture at bay than you could have kept people from microwaving “gourmet” meals.
And so, not quite a half-century after Nixon starting socking it to us, candidates large and small are trying to outdo each other for laughs.
If you haven’t already, check out the YouTube video of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz imitating characters from The Simpsons. It seems to lack any real political purpose other than to show a side of him you might find entertaining at a family get-together, or to make you wonder how much time he spends in front of a television. It also has more than 750,000 views.
Then there is the video by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a decidedly more obscure presidential candidate. He shows viewers various ways to destroy their excess cell phones, including using a blender, a microwave, a butcher knife and a heavy block of concrete. Then he concludes, “Or, if all else fails, you can always give your number to the Donald.”
That one has has more than 2 million views.
Rand Paul has a video showing him trying to destroy 70,000 pages of the U.S. tax code. He uses fire, a wood chipper and a chainsaw. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal hit YouTube with a strange pushup contest against the issues, which may explain why his campaign never got off the ground.
And, of course, Trump is leading the pack through his use of comments so outrageous even Laugh In’s perpetual joke candidate, Pat Paulsen, might have found them too edgy.
What some of these candidates are not doing is spending time in Iowa. In an insightful New York Times commentary headlined, “What if going viral matters more than Iowa?” Emma Roller notes, “This trend has led some to fret that Mr. Trump is setting a bad precedent for future elections.”
That future ought to be a serious concern for all Americans who treasure a constitutional republic weighted toward issues that matter to states and their residents. The Electoral College, peculiar as it is, has forced candidates to respond to local needs enough to accumulate the votes needed to win.
But as Americans fade deeper into their own virtual entertainment worlds, candidates have little choice but to go there, as well. The casualties could be many, including issues involving the poor and needy, families or, as has been evident lately, religious freedom.
My barber may be disappointed that Carson’s popularity is waning. But let’s hope next year we don’t find that the wearying search for an everyman leads down a path ever father from the things that truly matter.