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Maybe It’s the Podium That Makes People Say Stupid Things

For the past nine months, we’ve seen plenty of politicians say stupid things. Trump is probably leading the pack in the jaw-dropping odd, weird, or just plain stupid department. But he’s not alone. I’ve also found myself shaking my head at Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ben Carson, and others (used in an all-inclusive sense.)

But it wasn’t until this week that I had an amazing revelation. The cause of all this stupidity might not trace itself back to any mis-firing of a brain synapse. I discovered that the reason for stupidity might be more of an environmental factor – one that, oddly enough, is related to furniture. A podium to be more precise.

Yes, it’s true. The podium made them say it.

How do I know this? I discovered this quite inadvertently as I introduced a new drama game into our theatre arts classroom. A game I called “press conference.”

The premise is simple. I give one person a scenario and they come to the podium and say “and now I’ll take some questions” and the rest of the students have to act as reporters asking questions about the given scenario. Some scenarios I used were:

  • You are a police chief reporting on two prisoners who escaped from a penitentiary.
  • You are a town mayor dedicating a new park.
  • You are a politician who has been accused of corruption.
  • You are a presenter at a healthcare conference, introducing a new line of skin care products.

You get the idea. The game started, and the class joined in with much gusto. It quickly became lively as the person at the podium would have to answer the sometimes antagonistic questions.

And then it started happening. Insults. Rude comments. Stupid comments. The person behind the podium began to sound like … gasp … Trump!  It was glorious! I told the class that I wanted to rename the game to “How to be the Donald!”

Now all of our stupid comments and rude posturing was all in good fun. No one got hurt. No one cried, and we had a blast playing the game. But I couldn’t help but think that something happens to one’s brain as you stand behind the podium. People become aggressive, illogical, and somewhat stupid-sounding.

It’s the podium! Podium syndrome. Why even the POTUS had a podium moment the other day when he said, “we defeat ISIS, in part, when we tell them that they are weak.”  Really? That’s all we need to do?

It happens to the best of us. Podium-itis.

So don’t be too hard on Trump. It’s that wooden piece of furniture in front of him. Perhaps we should build a wall around it.

Trump has been good for everyone!

We really do need to thank Donald Trump. His campaign has singlehandedly increased the interest in 2016 politics to, perhaps, an all-time high. People are fascinated by what he says, how he says it, and how he responds to what other people say. People may scrunch up their nose and call him a jerk (or far worse) but they can’t take their eyes away from the shiny, loud, obnoxious beast that is dominating the news.

And that’s a good thing.

So who is enjoying this ride the most?

I would imagine the greatest benefactor of the Trump phenomenon has been political cartoonists. Wow! What amazing fodder? They’re brains must be exploding. And they are probably cursing because they can’t keep up with their ideas fast enough before new ideas come spewing forth from his mouth.

Trump is also good for Facebook. My goodness. The feeds dominated by Trump. It seems like 99% of them are negative, but it’s still good for Trump and good for Facebook.

Students. Actually, whenever I pull up the RealClearPolitics info about the election on my US History class, everyone is interested. Everyone is engaged. Really, would anyone care if it was Bush vs. Clinton. Trump has invigorated vast amounts of people to be engaged in the political process.

Republicans. Sure, there are plenty of pundits out their who say this is the end of the Republican party and that there’s going to be a major split and … I don’t buy it. If I’m the Democratic Party right now, I’d be shaking in my boots a little bit to see the juggernaut that Trump has created. The Republican turnout during these primary elections is through the roof. The engagement is high. This has expanded the reach of the Republican party, and if they can keep it all together through this toxic campaign season, there’s no reason they shouldn’t win in November against Clinton. Of course, anything can happen and you can’t predict anything accurately this time around.

But that’s why it’s been so much fun. This has been a political junkie’s dream presidential campaign, and we owe it all to Trump.

“Demagogue!” “Dangerous Egotist!” – No, This Isn’t About Trump

This person was called a “demagogue” and a “dangerous egotist.”

Let’s get out our Google dictionary to get a good definition of demagogue: a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument. 

Does that sound like anyone in the US 2016 presidential race?

How about “dangerous egotist?” Do you think that term could be used to describe anyone in this year’s election?

Well, these terms were actually used to disparage a presidential candidate. And they were hurled at that candidate by his challenger.

But the year wasn’t 2016, it was 1912. And the recipient of the slurs wasn’t Donald Trump. No, the person called those two highly charged terms was none other than former president Theodore Roosevelt. Who called him those? President William Howard Taft.

If Donald Trump is being portrayed by in those terms by some people, he seems to be in good company.

Roosevelt hand-picked Taft and coddled him into the White House in 1908 after Teddy’s two terms were up. But during Taft’s presidency, Roosevelt became so angry at Taft’s policies and the perceived notion that Taft was rolling back much that TR had accomplished that he decided to jump back into the race in 1912. After he couldn’t wrestle the Republican nomination away from the incumbent, he opened a third party run for the White House, which famously split the votes and allowed the Democrat Woodrow Wilson to be elected.

The 1912 campaign was brutal. And while Taft made it known his thoughts about TR, Roosevelt also blasted Taft, calling him a “fathead” and a “puzzlewit.” Yeah, I know. Puzzlewit doesn’t really have a nasty ring to us today, but back in the day, it mean “stupid.”

The mud was slinging from both sides.

So when we think that the stupid, fatheaded, egotistic, dangerous, demagogues only came on the scene in 2016, we’d be foolishly mistaken.

We’ve seen all of those people before. And we happened to call them our presidents.

Is Rubio the One to Watch?

A number of pundits and journalists have declared Marco Rubio the official winner in the Iowa Caucus – not because he came in first, but because he came in third, only one point off of Trump.

I tend to agree with this analysis. This was a major step forward for the Rubio campaign and he is, in my estimation, in a good position to do well moving forward.

Here are the facts so far. Cruz obviously won Iowa and pulled in 8 delegates compared to 7 each for Trump and Rubio according to RealClearPolitics. Iowa is not, however, about winning delegates. It’s about momentum.

Rubio’s best news of the night was that he won 30% of the undecided voters, according to a Fox News report, compared with 25% for Cruz with Trump far behind that. It means that Rubio’s message is resonating in a state he didn’t expect to do so well in. The Iowan Republican Caucus is known for their Christian conservative bent. This can easily be seen in 2008 when Mike Huckabee won Iowa and in 2012 when Rick Santorum won it. Cruz’s large ground game and conservative message ultimately won in Iowa, which completely makes sense.

New Hampshire and beyond will be a different story. Rubio’s articulate, more moderate message might just be his calling card to reach large numbers of voters who could sour on Trump or at least see in Rubio an alternative which could be a formidable challenger to whoever receives the Democratic nomination.

Cruz, of course, has strong momentum and not to mention bragging rights, but it will be interesting to see how his message will play out in less conservative strongholds.

I’m very curious to see where Rubio will end up in New Hampshire. Trump currently commands a huge 22 point lead in the polls in the Granite State, but will Cruz rise from his Iowan victory or will Rubio make an impression?  Fun times lay ahead. From here on out, it looks to be a three man race.

On the Democratic side, Sanders did well in Iowa and figures to win New Hampshire easily. However, that could end his run as the southern states and the Super Tuesday primary coming early next month will see Clinton’s base in full form and, barring any unseen circumstances, will likely overrun Sander’s camp by that time.

But stranger things have happened.

Iowa: It’s Finally Here. Let’s Get This Thing Over With!

As the Iowa caucus kicks off the primary season for the US 2016 presidential election, it is, perhaps, a good time for the people to breathe and realize that the end is in sight – even if ten grueling months into the future!

Hasn’t this already felt like the longest presidential campaign in history, even before one vote is cast?

Wow! Enough of Trump and Sanders already! Enough of John Kasich and, is anyone even paying any attention to Hillary Clinton other than the FBI?

I live 12,000 miles away from all the fun, so luckily I’m spared all of the presidential TV ads, radio spots, and cold calling. I don’t know if I could handle it all.

So the caucus will be the first step in determining which direction the fields will finally be taking. Do you think Martin O’Malley will finally drop out? And Rick Santorum? He was complaining the other day that Fox News hasn’t paid any attention to him. Well, has anyone? (Except the restaurant where my sister works that catered his launch party back in ’15.)

I feel like I should be talking to grandpa on the front porch somewhere:

Me: Grandpa, what was it like back in ’15 when all sixteen Republican candidates launched their campaigns.

Grandpa: Well, Sonny. Back in those days anybody could declare their candidacy as long as they were born in America, or Canada, or as long as they had at least three supporters.

That’s how long this thing feels!

Maybe it’s just me.

But in case I’ve given you the wrong impression, I live for this stuff. I love the debates and the jabs. I love the out of nowhere candidacies. I love seeing the Democratic party squirm at the thought of a Sanders campaign. I love seeing the Republican party squirm at the thought of a Trump campaign.

I love seeing the media …

No, actually, I don’t.

But when it comes to politics, I am the proverbial glutton for punishment.

So here’s to one of the most painful years ever!

A Chinese Reminder of a 2016 Presidential Candidate

I was showing my class a Discovery video about China’s transformation prior to the Beijing Olympics. I’ve shown this for several years now as it’s a great video to help understand the turmoil China went through in order to emerge as a 21st century powerhouse.

One section of the video always produces some laughs. It concerns a local election in which the female mayor of a small village is being challenged at the polls by a local garlic grower. This section highlights the democratic changes in Chinese society which are taking place at the very lowest levels.

The current mayor has proved herself to be a shrewd politician who understands the needs of her constituents. She has paved a road from the village into the neighboring town so farmers can easily bring their wares to market. She has inspired many farmers to switch to flowers, instead of rice, more than quadrupling their income. She keeps a village ledger on the side of one of the buildings to keep the local government accountable for their actions. She has, in every sense, been an exemplary public servant.

Her challenger, Mr. Zhang the garlic grower, acknowledges this fact and even says that everyone admires Mayor Lieu.

You might be wondering what his running platform is? How does he have a chance against her? What’s his strategy? Does he have any clever tricks up his sleeve?

Yes, he most certainly does. He says, “I think the way I can compete with Mrs. Lieu is that I’m a man, and she’s a woman.”  Okay, he says it like it is. But he doesn’t stop there. He said that a leader needs to make others rich, and to do that, the leader also needs to be rich – like he is.

So let’s boil this down to a campaign slogan. “Vote for Zhang. I’m a man, and I’m rich.”

But as I was watching again this year it hit me: this guy is the Chinese Donald Trump!

“Vote for Trump: I’m a man, and I’m rich.”

A good chuckle was had by all. I have found his Chinese twin. A rich garlic grower.

By the way, Zhang lost in his election by nearly a 4-1 margin.

Those Chinese farmers know a thing or two.

Trump, Sanders, Carson all Signify the Same Thing (sort of)

I love talking politics. Rarely do so on this blog because the last thing I want is for this blog to devolve into some sort of political debate forum. We’ve all seen the vicious comments which are endemic. I really hate that kind of discourse. It’s both unproductive and uncivilized, yet fully protected by the first amendment. (I support that part of rowdy forums!)

But I will, from time to time, offer a little analysis of what I see going on, and this U.S. election cycle is setting itself up to be some kind of interesting! Both sides of the aisle are bracing themselves for epic mudslinging. We all know the dirty nature of politics, but this is on a collision course for a new level of nasty. Should be really fun!

What I have found fascinating are the people who don’t understand why Trump is getting so much traction. Really? It’s not so hard to understand.

And Bernie Sanders, cranking in the early buzz on the Democratic side is also not surprising. Does anyone actually think that Hillary Clinton has put any real effort into her campaign so far? I mean, really. Lackluster is perhaps too nice. And as she is now being dogged by email server questions with the FBI getting involved, Sanders just keeps on climbing.

Even renowned John Hopkins neurosurgeon Ben Carson seems to be hitting his stride after the first Republican debate. He’s been having to upgrade the speaking venues as his crowds are continually growing.

So why are these three making their marks on early in the presidential race? Simple. They all have an anti-Washington, outsider message that is resonating. The electorate (at least at this time) is clearly sick of the standard political rhetoric.

Of course, outside voices are nothing new in politics. Americans have elected a wide variety of individuals who spoke differently than the entrenched politicians. That’s how Ross Perot garnered nineteen million votes in 1992. Jessie Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger rode their name recognition and thin political resumes to victory in gubernatorial races in Minnesota and California respectively. Even established politicians who have fashioned themselves as Washington outsiders used their fresh-sounding voices to presidential victory. Governors Carter, Reagan, and Clinton all come to mind.

With Congressional approval ratings at perennially low levels, and a country which seems even more divided during the Obama era, many people are just fed-up.

And so when Trump spouts off his mouth in a decidedly unpolitical way and a most politically-incorrect way, many people applaud. Trump is also unique because he’s like a circus show all to himself. He sucks the air out of the room, and people can’t seem to take their eyes off of him (whether they think he’s loathsome or not). It’s difficult to say whether the Trump phenomenon will have lasting power. Conventional political wisdom would say not.

Sanders is in a different category than Trump. Sanders, of course, has been the long serving independent Senator from Vermont. As a self-described democratic socialist, his message would seem out of place in almost all American political cycles except this one. His agenda is large and stark: take on the big banks, drastically raise taxes on the rich, slash corporate profits. It’s a type of populist socialism that appeals to the folks who think they’ve had a raw deal in the face of a large class of wealthy executives who seem disconnected and uncaring. His is a promise of big government (massive, really) and what we might call equity of outcome. It’s classic western European, big-state socialism. It’s the kind of message which seems counter to the rugged individualism which America has long been known for. But his message is resonating, and it will be interesting to see if he can pick up steam. (He certainly may if Clinton continues to stumble.) Conventional political wisdom says that Sanders has no chance to become the president of the United States. Anyway you slice it, the word “socialism” doesn’t play well in the American heartland. But one never knows.

Carson is fast becoming a folk hero for the conservative wing of the Republican party. His logical, faith-based rhetoric is a refreshing break for many people from the political speak typically coming out of Washington. Him being a brilliant surgeon doesn’t hurt on the respect scale, either. He has a legitimate outsider claim that few in the race can match, and he’ll be able to ride that for quite sometime. How far and how long remains to be seen.

Looking at the race at this early date, it’s difficult for me to see a run of the mill Clinton-Bush battle. It seems that America is ready for a new voice, and this race certainly has its share of them. Clinton has been the presumptive nominee for the Democratic party for so long that I think many people have trouble seeing what may lie beyond her. She may indeed prevail, or we could have a Democratic surprise. The Republican side may too, at some point, gravitate back to its core political base and choose a more established politician. But I must say, wouldn’t a Trump – Sanders battle be entertaining?

Whatever happens, it’s clear that the electorate is ornery, and the billion dollar campaign season has hardly even begun.