People Hate Politicians
[The following is excerpted from my new book Don’t Think Of A Republican – How I Won A Republican Primary As A Lefty Progressive And You Can Too, which recounts the rhetoric and strategy of satirical candidate H.F. Valentine’s unprecedented 2022 primary run. See the whole book here.]
Excerpt from H.F. Valentine’s speech given at Tailgate Fest
You want to know the real reason why I’m doing so much better in the polls than was expected? I mean I’d love to believe it’s my dashing good looks. I’d love to believe that I’ve got the perfect policy for every voter. But I know that’s not it.
The real reason I’m gaining on these fools is because I’m not a politician. And my opponents are politicians. And people hate politicians. They do. They hate them. They hate their haircuts. They hate their boring suits. They hate the fake folksy just out of the package flannel and denim costume they wear when they’re trying to look like the everyman or everywoman. You know what I’m talking about. When they look to make sure the cameras are on them before they roll up their sleeves. People hate that shit.
Just like they hate their stiff-ass body language, and all their rehearsed movements. Like that thing Bill Clinton used to do with that weird broken-ass fist motion, because the consultants told him you can’t point into the crowd. And then Obama and Hillary started doing it too. People hate that shit.
And why do they hate it? Because it’s fake.
Politicians are fake as armadillo fur.
Just listen to the way they talk. That’s what people hate the most. It’s the reason why they don’t trust them. Because they can see right through them.
Every time I hear a politician on TV refer to “what the American People want,” I want to put that politician on a shuttle and shoot them out into space. Because it’s soooooo disingenuous. These people don’t know what the American People want, because they don’t know the American People. They’re completely disconnected from what the average person’s life is like in America.
When they talk about “what the American People want,” they’re really just saying whatever their consultants told them you want to hear. Or worse, they’re telling you what their donors want. Because as far as they’re concerned, that is the American People. Those are the only people that matter.
If they want to better serve us, they could just ask us what we want. And then do it. But they don’t. Instead they have to convince us of what it is we want. It’s about getting us to think we want what they want, or rather what their donors want.
Case in point. You know what my opponents call no premium, no deductible, no copay, no out of pocket maximum, full coverage, see any doctor you want healthcare? They call it socialized medicine. And they call it that so you’ll hate it. So you’ll reject it. So you’ll continue paying more money and getting worse results.
You know what they call it in all the countries that pay less money and get better results? They call it healthcare.
My opponents, and all their corporate hack mentors, and the industries and billionaires they serve, are fucking lying to you.
They do studies, and polling, and focus groups, and they pour money into consultants and think thanks and economists and every PR hack they can find, all to figure out a delivery that will make things like clear water sound elitist or being able to survive on the planet too expensive.
They don’t study us so they can better serve us. They study us so they can better serve us up to their donors. Their big money donors.
Lucky for me, I don’t have any big money donors. And I sure as hell don’t have any establishment-minded consultants feeding me a bunch of garbage.
Sure, I’m a tad unorthodox. And I may not be as polished or well-rehearsed or even at times as articulate as the other Vampire Robots that pass for Congressional leadership. But when I tell you something, it’s because I’ve listened. I’ve heard you. It’s not because my people did some study or some focus group. It’s because I’m taking into account your existence, the life you have to live. Not some fairytale American Dream scenario that sounds good in a campaign speech, but the life you have to live. That’s what I’m shaping my policies around.
That’s why I’m not afraid for you to question my policies. Hell, I want you to question me. I want you to question my policies, because I don’t want you walking in that voting booth with doubts.
I admit, when I ask for your vote, I’m selling myself. But I’m not selling my policies. Because I don’t have to sell you my policies. Because you don’t have to sell someone what they already know.
That’s why when I tell you that our current healthcare model is immoral, and more expensive, I’m not telling you something you don’t already know.
When I tell white voters that they have more in common with black and brown working people than rich white people, and that if we got together in numbers with our black and brown brothers and sisters, those rich people would no longer be running the show, I’m not telling you something you don’t already know.
When I tell Christian voters that being stewards of the earth doesn’t mean draining and exploiting our natural resources in a manner that is not only unsustainable for our land, our oceans, and the millions of species that rely on a certain ecosystem to not go extinct, but is antithetical to any semblance of human civilization, I’m not telling you something you don’t already know.
When I tell you that our current economic practices have grown inequality and will continue to grow inequality until a literal handful of people will have more money, and thus more political say, than entire countries of people, and that that is unacceptable in any civilized world, I’m not telling you something you don’t already know.
When I tell you that we have the money and the resources to be Number One in the world in so many areas, but only if we implement policies that define being Number One in terms of justice and wellbeing for all, I’m not telling you something you don’t already know.
When I tell you that it doesn’t really matter where any of the candidates stand on any fundamental or structural issues unless we can get money out of politics, I’m not telling you something you don’t already know.
I’m not telling you something you don’t already know; I am merely reminding you of something they want you to forget. Something they will try nonstop with every resource at their disposal to distract you from. To convince you otherwise. To convince you that your eyes are lying eyes.
I’m not telling you something you don’t already know. But I am telling you something that my opponents are not allowed to say. And you know why they’re not allowed to say it. And you know until we can get money out of politics, they will only ever be able to say what their donors allow them to say. And that means you can never fully trust if what they are saying is benefitting you or benefitting those donors.
What you can trust is that I don’t owe anyone. Except you. And what I owe you is to be honest and transparent about what I plan to do and why I plan to do it.
Hell, I’m the one encouraging you to question what I’m saying. They’re the ones telling you to trust them.
Do you really trust them? Do you really trust the intentions of their big money donors? Do you trust what these legally bribed politicians are telling you?
Or do you trust… what you already know?
Running as a lefty in a Republican primary, you’re already going to be seen as different. You just have to make sure it’s a good different.
My team and I had a joke that our campaign was conducting the George Costanza experiment and doing the opposite of what one’s political instinct might tell them to do.
Not surprisingly, the media couldn’t understand why it was working. Granted, this was the same media that used to make fun of Bernie Sanders’ hair, not realizing that was something that voters actually related to. It made Bernie look like a normal person, contrasted with the ambiguously alive, dead, or undead look of Mike Pence.
It was this same establishment presumption of voter superficiality that provided my candidacy its greatest Costanza move. Although we definitely employed our share of slogans and stunts, when it came to my choice of language I resisted the political instinct to simplify. Many even on my own staff, not to mention a number of close friends, had urged me early on to dumb it down. “Don’t use too many syllables; don’t use too many big words. The speeches can’t go on too long.” That kind of stuff.
Yet I thought they were selling the voters short. Hell, I knew straight up political simpletons who loved the shit out of Deadwood, and that mess was damn near Shakespearean. Plus, if I heeded their advice, I would only be contributing to the problem.
Propaganda relies on a lazy and unhealthy mind. Our society is sick right now because our political acumen is so weak; our minds are weak. That’s how we got to this place. In the early 20th century, workers making a few cents an hour were politically sophisticated. And they demanded more from their society than the crumbs the rich saw fit to give them. That’s how this country boomed. Because the workers were too smart to fall for a bunch of bullshit.
What I had to gamble on was that people still had that same capacity in them. Even if they weren’t as well-informed. Even if they were being propagandized.
The same way one’s eyes and attention gradually correct when switching from screen reading to print reading, it was my suspicion that the longer voters listened to me the more they would get out of it, and that political attention span would prove alive and well. I just had to get them to listen long enough for that to happen.
So in the spirit of transparency, I told voters exactly what I was doing. I told them that I wasn’t going to dumb it down like my opponents, like the rest of the establishment political class. I told them I wasn’t going to infantilize them; I was going to speak to them like adults, responsible adults.
For certain, I let the slogans do the summarizing. And I repeated those slogans over and over. But behind those slogans was real substance. Substance I believed voters could handle, in language I believed they deserved.
I even gave them reading recommendations on various policy issues, in case they wanted a deeper dive into what I was saying. Did most of them do the reading? Probably not. What mattered was that they could see I was taking them seriously. And that bought me time enough to see if my gamble would pay off.