The Lesser of Two Weevils

Don’t blame me — I voted for Kodos.

By Jim Knipfel

Winning an American presidential campaign has nothing to do with ideas, or personality, or even money (though money helps). For the past 35 years, the race for president has slavishly followed an increasingly weary but hilariously predictable pattern. In a way, it strictly adheres to the mechanics of Hegelian Dialectics, but with a twist.

Begin with a seated president of either party, it doesn’t matter. Come election time the candidates from the opposing party will begin screaming “Change! Change! Change!” trying to convince the American public that some kind of change is necessary to escape the problems created by the current administration. If the seated president is only at the end of his first term, he will be re-elected, no matter how awful a job he’s doing, simply because American voters are attracted to the familiar and recognizable, and will opt for it every time. If, however, he’s at the end of his second term, those cries for “change” will suddenly seem relevant and unavoidable, so the opposing party will win.

Despite all the campaign promises for change, once the new party takes over, nothing will change. In fact what usually happens is things just get worse. So, yes, come the next election the other party begins screaming “Change! Change! Change!) and, as Beckett put it, “Repeat play.”

The difference between presidential campaigns and the thesis/antithesis/synthesis pattern of standard dialectics is that we never end up with a synthesis. We just swing from thesis to antithesis and back again, from party to party like a creaking pendulum. Only thing that changes is that it gets harder and harder to tell the two parties apart. Myself, I gave up even trying a long time ago.

Now, there are a few other given predictabilities when it comes to presidential campaign mechanics.

Any front runner who experiences a meteoric rise in the polls more than a year before the election will disappear soon enough for whatever reason.

Threatening to run as a third party candidate is an empty threat, since any third party candidate will either be ignored (like John Anderson) or, if they actually seem to present a real threat to the reigning power structure, destroyed (like Ross Perot).

Both parties will winnow down their pool of candidates until they arrive at the two most flat, uninspiring, and inoffensive nothings they can come up with. Then the American voters will be asked to spend a couple months pretending they’re fully behind one puppet or another, when in fact most elections boil down to voting less for someone than against that other one you hate so much more. In the end, the voting itself barely matters, given the above rules reveal the ultimate winner to be a foregone conclusion.

As surreal and rib-tickling as a Trump presidency would be, I don’t get the impression he plans to stick around that long. He’s having fun. He’s getting loads of press. He’s greeted by thousands of fanatical followers with their stiff right arms upraised—what more could he want? I mean, if he became president he’d lose all that. No, one of these days he’ll either intentionally go way overboard and end up with a lucrative slot at Fox News, he’ll be asked to disclose his financial records (revealing he’s not nearly as rich as he claims), the RNC will have him exterminated and blame it on a Black Lives Matter protester, or he’ll simply come out and admit he’s Andy Kaufman once and for all. That leaves one of the other sad little clones to choose from, but they’re already starting to drop like flies.

Meanwhile, unless something really, really funny happens, Hillary Clinton, who has clearly spent a lifetime modeling herself after Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate, will be the Democratic choice. I mean, you can’t exactly say she’s had a meteoric rise in the polls, can you? No, she’s just there because the Democrats have no one else. The party leaders know that while there’s only a slim chance American voters would consider voting for a woman, there’s no way in hell they’d ever seriously consider voting for a Jew. Given that, by the rules outlined above they know they have no chance next fall, they might as well make a good show of it anyway by putting a woman at the top of the ticket. It’s good PR.

The rules state clearly that come next November we’re going to end up with a Republican president, likely Jeb Bush if he’s smart enough to keep his mouth shut and his head down. He has no discernible personality, agenda, or much of anything at all. He’s an empty cypher, which means he’s perfect. Best of all, he has a name people recognize, so people will like that. It’s comforting.

In the weeks prior to the election, however, the gutters in more civilized parts of the country will be overflowing with vomit, as voters finally comprehend they’re being asked to choose between another Bush and another Clinton. As HST noted so many times, Alphonse Karr was right.

Published December 31st, 2015

Jim Knipfel is the author of Slackjaw, The Blow-Off, These Children Who Come at You With Knives, and several other books.