I know I’m not the only person turned off by politicians’ sound-bites, but I understand why they do it. Thanks to focus groups, A/B testing, and data analysis, campaigns know which words and phrases will have the greatest impact; and repetition works.
But the levels of absurdity the current US presidential race has reached should make even the most forgiving supporters squirm. Despite my sympathies for candidates from both parties, every passing day seems to further transform these White House wannabes into ridiculous caricatures.
At some point you have to ask: where did their backbones go?
My biggest frustrations lie with senator Ted Cruz, who has most obviously fallen from (principled) grace. Readers might find this hard to believe – after months of hearing about Cruz’s anti-immigration rhetoric and hawkish foreign policy promises – but just a few years ago he proudly stood for classically liberal values.
I watched Cruz speak for the first time in 2013, sharing a platform with senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee at the Young Americans for Liberty conference. As an editorial intern at Townhall.com, I scribbled down every word I could, completely invested in my opportunity to write up the event, which would be shared on the website. The senators didn’t disappoint and Cruz, in particular, was inspiring. “Cruz 2013” advocated the protection of civil liberties, cautious foreign policy, and immigration opportunity for people facing oppression.
Sure, there were a few pre-planned stories in there, and a few sound-bites too. But it felt honest, authentic.
There’s enough evidence from his past to believe that “Cruz 2016” is just as miserable talking about hard-line immigration control as we are hearing about it; his attempt to out-Donald The Donald on issues like Mexican immigration and the Syrian refugee crisis is likely just a tactic to win over primary voters. But regardless, it’s a jarring change in tune, and his decision to swing closer to Trump’s views rather than combat them with a moderate perspective has been utterly disheartening.
Hillary Clinton disappoints me slightly less, only because my expectations were lower in the first place. Her insincerity has become a simple fact of political life. She’s a chameleon seeking office, willing to slap on a free-market capitalist persona or a far-left radical one, depending on the mood of the room. (The mood of the Democratic base at the moment is of course the latter, which might explain why her speeches to Wall Street have yet to be released.)
Then there are the two “authentic” candidates: both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have done a decent job at convincing voters that their talk is straight, and from the heart. But on inspection, both prove to be deeply inconsistent. Sanders’s opposition to free trade demolishes any credibility he might have as a pro-poor candidate, given that protectionism would deprive those in other countries (far worse off than Americans) of their jobs and incomes. Trump’s promise to overthrow the politicians and Make America Great Again would involve an expansion of state intrusion, like deportation raids on family homes and the potential criminalisation of women who choose to have an abortion.
I know beggars aren’t supposed to be choosers, but I’m finding it just as hard to back inconsistency as I am insincerity. If the choice is between two candidates who say what they don’t mean, or two candidates who mean the terrifying things they say, the political current won’t be pulling me towards an endorsement anytime soon.