September 19th, 2020


The Presidential Hopefuls May Be In Fun City, But Where's The Hope, Where's The Fun?

Bill Whalen

By Bill Whalen

Published April 13, 2016

After Hillary finally made it on the subway.

A week from now, we’ll be in the relief innings of New York’s presidential primary.

And what a relief it will be.

There are two ways to look at what’s transpired so far in the Empire State, which votes two Tuesdays from now.

On the productive side, it’s an opportunity for Donald Trump to amass delegates and ease concerns about the inner workings of his campaign.

On the Prozac side: should Vermont Sen. Bernie spring an upset in the state that’s been a mailing address for the two Clintons for two full presidencies now, it would send the Democratic establishment into a spiral.

The other way to look at New York: it underscores the joyless existence that is this presidential election.

You can find the candidates in Fun City, but fun is nowhere to be found.

What we have:

(1) A hometown developer who claims to be the heart and soul of tabloid-reading, blue-collar New Yawkers when in fact he’s leads a five-star existence of private planes, limos and elegant resorts, hotels and mansions.

(2) A Texas senator with a Hispanic surname not much interested in Gotham’s Puerto Rican and Dominican populations, but who did bother to drop by a Brooklyn matzah bakery to put to rest anti-Semitic talk.

(3) An Ohio governor who does seem like a tolerant, regular fellow, but nonetheless eats pizza with a fork (cut to B-roll of John Kerry trying to nibble his way around a Philly cheesesteak).

The Democratic side of the equation isn’t any prettier.

(4) There’s the devout socialist born to a Brooklyn Jewish manse (he kept the accent, but left both the borough and observance of the faith), who’s still clinging to subway tokens (how else to get to the Polo Grounds or Ebbets Field?).

(5) A fellow Democrat who knows better than to use tokens – and we’ll cut her some slack over her shaky MetroCard skills. Credit her clumsiness to karma: Hillary was trying to board a train at the 161st Street Station – the stop for Yankee Stadium and the team she conveniently sidled up to as she transitioned from First Lady to Senate candidate back in the ‘90’s.

(The over-under on the number of Hillary Clinton has been a straphanger: four. That would be Senate campaigns in 2000 and 2006 and presidential runs in 2008 and 2016.)

And therein lies the problem with this field.

For Clinton, it’s originality. Riding the subway is tired and cliché (and perhaps yet another Clintonian brush with the law). That she’d bother to do so – with that exaggerated smile and faux enthusiasm – is a reminder that her candidacy is neither refreshing nor a needed reboot of national politics.

Trump, for all his populist fervor, would be poorly served were he advised to show up at any large venue that wasn’t of his own design and control. Trump events bring the threat of not just heckling, but physical violence. No joy there.

Cruz, despite his youth (he turns 46 in December) and heritage, doesn’t embody aspirational politics. Kasich, on the other hand, does try to be aspirational but too often ends up drifting into moral chastising.

Sanders’ campaign may be the closest thing we have, at the moment, to joy. But listen closely to the message: it’s about inequality, not inspiration. Bernie doesn’t want to lift up America so much as he’d like to enrage the masses into burning down society’s moneyed upper reaches.

New York offers all sorts of ways for candidates to connect with the populace, other than vapid subway photo-ops. Last Thursday, for example, was National Beer Day. Did any of these candidates hit a bar? Then again, are any of them beer-drinkers?

This coming Friday is Jackie Robinson Day across America’s major-league ballparks (it’s the 69th anniversary of the Dodgers great breaking baseball’s color barrier). Will any of the five show up at Yankee Stadium and share in the moment?

You can argue that politicians are products of the environments in which they campaign. And the America of 2016 isn’t a land of jocularity. Voters are on edge about an economy that doesn’t seem an upward escalator, a culture awash and adrift in political correctness, and a western civilization whose liberties are physically and spiritually under attack.

In such a climate, perhaps there’s no room for grinning fools. Still, would it kill these contenders to try to lift our spirits and appeal to our better natures?

In this primary: fuggedaboutit.

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Bill Whalen is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he studies and writes on current events and political trends. In citing Whalen as one of its "top-ten" political reporters, The 1992 Media Guide said of his work: "The New York Times could trade six of its political writers for Whalen and still get a bargain." During those years, Whalen also appeared frequently on C-SPAN, National Public Radio, and CNBC.