OFF THE GRID

Can Anybody Be President?

Sep 16, 10 | 7:59 AM   byMichael Wolff
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The conventional wisdom of this year’s politics has been that the wealthy, rather en masse, were going to buy their place in Congress and in state houses around the country. This is the Michael Bloomberg effect.

But the poor and shiftless are doing very well, too. Christine O’Donnell, the surprise winner of the Republican Senate primary in Delaware, earned $5,800 this year and defaulted on her mortgage, the New York Times reports.

Curiously, one positive argument about wealthy candidates—again, it’s the Michael Bloomberg argument—has been that they tend to have more real-world gravitas, probity, and demonstrated competence than ordinary politicians. They’ve proven themselves: they made money. They are managers, a high accolade. But now there is Carl Paladino in New York, a real estate mogul, who nobody would accuse of having gravitas, probity, or special competence. He is, rather, that new political species—according to Jay Jacobs, the New York State Democratic Party chairman—“a wacko.”

So let’s revise the conventional wisdom: It may just be a good time for all counter-intuitive candidates. This is, obviously, because politicians have a bad name. There must be something wrong, at best a lack of imagination, with anybody who even wants to be a politician (why would you choose to be ineffectual and hated?). Hence, our willingness to elect the unelectable. We want anti-politicians.

But there is also a marketing point. Carl Paladino’s campaign has been managed by the long-time political consultant Roger J. Stone Jr., who the Times describes as a “provocateur.” This is perhaps a better name for wacko. Wackoness is not about sanity, but, in marketing terms, a strategy for breaking through the clutter. You can get noticed if you have a lot of money, or you can get noticed if you say things that get you attention. The Tea Party strategy has been based around a series of extreme messages that horrify the great majority of Americans who are not extreme. Horrifying the majority doesn’t sound like a way to get elected, and it may not be—but it may be a way to almost get elected, which is a lot closer than you were before you horrified the nation.

In Carl Paladino’s case, he is both rich and horrifying.

Christine O’Donnell is most famous for being against masturbation. That’s not only an extreme message, but a funny one—even, sort of, a sexy one. It certainly got her noticed.

Anyway, she’s launched. She’s a provocateur, which, win or lose, will surely be worth more than $5,800.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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