Camille Paglia on the 2016 presidential candidates


If you are at all familiar with the politics of Camille Paglia, you either love her or hate her, but you find it annoying difficult to ignore her.  In her latest, provocative interview with Salon.com, part II, and part III, she discusses her views (thus far, 7/30/2015) on some of the candidates of the 2016 presidential elections.  She is, at times, critical, at times constructive, and at other times a little mean-spirited, but Ms. Paglia rarely submits an opinion on any matter without backing it up with some objectivity, and thoughtful examination.

presidential-candidate-tracker-1422646394170-videoSixteenByNine600-v7Ms. Paglia is a life-long Democrat, but she is often as critical of Democrats as she is Republicans. This is based on the idea, presumably, that she wants to help fix her party.  As opposed to most social critics that call the Democrat Party their home, Ms. Paglia makes no secret of her perspective on individual Republican candidates, but this reader finds her views very insightful … even when she’s leveling my favorite Republican candidate.

Though it’s difficult to sift through all of her negative and positive comments, Camille Paglia’s take on the election right now, appears to be that once all the smoke clears, it will probably be (Republican Governor, Wisconsin) Scott Walker and (former Democrat Governor, Maryland) Martin O’Malley left standing.

Hillary Clinton:  I have constantly said that Senator (California) Dianne Feinstein should have been the leading woman presidential candidate for the Democrat Party long ago.  Congresswoman (California) Nancy Pelosi is a very deft and clever behind-the-scenes legislator and dealmaker, a skill she acquired from her political family–her father and brother were mayors of Baltimore. Both of these women, to me, are far better politicians than (Former Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton. Hillary has accomplished nothing substantial in her life. She’s been pushed along, coasting on her husband’s coattails, and every job she’s been given fizzled out into time-serving or overt disaster.  Hillary constantly strikes attitudes and claims she’s “passionate” about this or that, but there’s never any sustained follow-through.  She’s just a classic, corporate exec or bureaucrat type who would prefer to be at her desk behind closed doors, imposing her power schemes on the proletariat.  She has no discernible political skills of any kind, which is why she needs a big, shifting army of consultants, advisors, and toadies to whisper in her ear and write her policy statements.  There’s this ridiculous new theme in the media about people needing to learn who the “real” Hillary Clinton is.  What? Everything they’re saying about what a wonderful person Hillary is in private tells us that she’s not competent or credible as a public figure! A politician, particularly a president, must have a distinct skill or expertise in communicating with the masses.  It’s the absolutely basic requirement for any career in politics.

If you don’t have an effective public persona, if you’re not a good speaker, if you don’t like to press the flesh, if you’re not nimble enough to deal with anything that comes along, then you are not a natural politician!  And you sure aren’t going to learn it in your late 60s!  Get off the stage, and let someone else truly electable on! All this silly talk about how wonderful Hillary is in private.  Oh, sure, she’s nice to the important people and the people she wants or needs something from!  Then she’s Pollyanna herself!  There are just too many reports stretching all the way back to Arkansas about Hillary’s nasty outbursts toward underlings when things aren’t going well.  The main point is that the ability to communicate with millions of people is a special talent, and Hillary pretty obviously lacks it.

Hillary Clinton Part II: I don’t see Hillary as even getting as far as the debates!  If things continue to trend downward for her, in terms of her favorability and the increasing scandals, then the Democratic establishment will have to take action to avoid a sure GOP win.  Hillary has way too much baggage for a general election–that should have been obvious from the start.  If Vice-President Biden jumps in, that would change everything.  I don’t think Hillary wants to be defeated, so what I’ve been predicting all along is that there will be a “health crisis,” and she will withdraw.  Right now, her campaign is trying to change the headlines by releasing some new policy statement every day, but it’s not going to change the looming investigations into her conduct as Secretary of State.  And of course the GOP is holding back its real anti-Hillary ammunition until she’s the nominee.  Then we’ll all be plunged backward into the endless nightmare of the Clinton years–it will be pure hell!

I’m hoping, once we get to the debates, that Martin O’Malley can show himself to best advantage.  He was an experienced mayor and governor of Maryland, and he has an attractive, low-key temperament. He’s presented himself very well thus far in media interviews.  He’s relaxed, open, and actually enjoys being with people–which Hillary clearly does not. He has an outgoing, fun-loving Irish pol quality, which many people nostalgically remember from the Kennedy years.

Martin O’Malley: I feel that once we get to the debates, O’Malley’s actual hands-on, day-to-day experience with complex big-city governance will get traction. Right now we’re in a volatile period of slogans being shouted and passions about racial and immigrant issues boiling over. That’s what’s currently driving the news, but we’re not at the point where people are sitting in front of their T.V.s and intently assessing candidates for the presidency. How is this person handling him or herself behind the podium? How is that person responding to questions or conflict? The actual debates are when the electorate is auditioning candidates for the presidency.  That’s where Obama gained big on Hillary.

Joe Biden: If (Vice-President) Biden enters, I’m not counting him out. He’s going to suck up a lot of Hillary’s support. I’ve never taken Biden too seriously–he always seemed like a lightweight.  But the death of his son Beau, a nice guy with military experience who seemed on track for the presidency, has given Biden more gravitas than he ever had before.  The way he handled himself at Beau’s funeral–standing for five hours, personally greeting all callers. Biden comes in as someone who doesn’t have enemies and who knows the departments of government and international affairs.  He handles himself well in debates–even though Sarah Palin defeated him!

Biden doesn’t have any of Hillary’s negatives.  Why do we want another divisive, polarizing figure in the White House? Who wants a president that half the country already hates? Does that make any sense? At a time when the U.S. has to negotiate with hostile or untrustworthy foreign states, you’d think we would want a president who has the support and good will of the nation.  People are tired of the polarization and looking for a uniter!

Bernie Sanders: (Democrat Senator, Vermont) Bernie Sanders has the authentic, empathic, 1960s radical voice. It’s so refreshing. Now, I’m a supporter of Martin O’Malley–I sent his campaign a contribution the very first day he declared.  But I would happily vote for Sanders in the primary.  His type of 1960s radical activist style descends from the 1930s unionization movement, when organizers who were sometimes New York Jewish radicals went down to help the mine workers of Appalachia resist company thugs. There are so many famous folk songs that came out of that violent period.

When I was in college–from 1964 to 1968–I saw what real leftists look like, because a lot of people at my college, which was the State University of New York at Binghamton, were radicalized Jews from downstate. They were very avant-garde, doing experimental theater and modern dance, and they knew all about abstract expressionism. Their parents were often Holocaust survivors, so they had a keen sense of history.  And they spoke in a very direct and open working-class style. That’s why, in the 1990s, I was saying that the academic leftists were such frauds–sitting around applying Foucault to texts and thinking that was leftism!  No it wasn’t!  It was a snippy, prim, smug bourgeois armchair leftism.  Real ’60s radicals rarely went to grad school and never became big-wheel humanities professors, with their fat salaries and perks.  The proof of the vacuity of academic leftism for the past forty years is the complete silence of leftist professors about the rise of the corporate structure of the contemporary university–their total failure to denounce the gross expansion of the administrator class and the obscene rise in tuition costs. The leading academic leftists are such frauds–they’ve played the system and are retiring as millionaires!

But what you see in Bernie Sanders–that is truly the voice of populism.  I love the way he says, “This is not about me, it’s about you–it’s about building a national grassroots organization.”  That is perfect!  I doubt Sanders can win a national election with his inflammatory socialist style–plus you need someone in the White House who knows how to manage a huge bureaucracy, so I’m pessimistic about his chances. However, I think that he is tonic–to force the Democrat party, which I belong to, to return to its populist roots. I applaud everything that Sanders is doing!

Donald Trump:  So far this year, I’m happy with what (Republican) Trump has done, because he’s totally blown up the media!  All of a sudden, “BOOM!”  That lack of caution and shooting from the hip. He’s not a president, of course. He’s not remotely a president. He has no political skills of any kind. He’s simply an American citizen who is creating his own bully pulpit.  He speaks in the great populist way, in the slangy vernacular.  He takes hits like a comedian–and to me he’s more of a comedian than Jon Stewart is!  Like claiming John McCain isn’t a war hero, because his kind of war hero doesn’t get captured–that’s hilarious! That’s like something crass that Lenny Bruce might have said!  It’s so startling and entertaining.

It’s as if the stars have suddenly shifted–because we’re getting a mix-up in the other party too, as in that recent disruption of the NetRoots convention, with all that raw emotion and chaos in the air.  To me, it feels very 1960s.  These sudden disruptions, as when the Yippies would appear to do a stunt–like when they invaded Wall Street and threw dollar bills down on the stock exchange and did pig-calls!  I’m enjoying this, but it’s throwing both campaigns off. None of the candidates on either side know how to respond to this kind of wild spontaneity, because we haven’t seen it in so long.

Politics has always been performance art.  So we’ll see who the candidates are who can think on their feet.  That’s certainly how I succeeded in the early 1990s.  Before that, the campus thought police could easily disrupt visiting speakers who came with a prepared speech to read.  But they couldn’t disrupt me, because I had studied comedy and did improv!  The great comedians knew how to deal with hecklers in the audience.  I loved to counterattack!  Protesters were helpless when the audiences laughed.

So what I’m saying is that the authentic 1960s were about street theater–chaos, spontaneity, caustic humor. And Trump actually has it!  He does better comedy than most professional comedians right now, because we’re in this terrible period where the comedians do their tours with canned jokes. They go from place to place, saying the same list of jokes in the same way.  But the old vaudevillians had 5,000 jokes stored in their heads. They went out there and responded to that particular audience on that particular night.  They had to read the crowd and try out what worked or didn’t work.

Our politicians, like our comedians, have been boring us with their canned formulas for way too long.  So that’s why Donald Trump has suddenly leapt in the polls.  He’s a great stand-up comedian. He’s anti-PC–he’s not afraid to say things that are rude and mean.  I think he’s doing a great service for comedy as well as for politics!

Marco Rubio: (Republican Senator, Florida) Rubio is widely praised for his intelligence, but he comes across as unsettlingly glib to me. He’s sharp on foreign affairs–that’s a strong suit for him.  But he seems oddly weightless, like a peppy young boy. I don’t see any depth yet.

Ted Cruz: (Republican Senator, Texas) Ted Cruz–oh, lord!  Cruz gives me the willies. The guy is a fanatic!  He’s very smart, clever and strategic, and he has a fine education from Princeton, so people have to watch out for him. But I think he is self-absorbed and narcissistic to a maniacal degree.  I will never forgive him for his insulting arrogance to Dianne Feinstein when the Judiciary Committee was debating gun control two years ago. There’s a two-minute clip on YouTube which I urge people to look at it.  Cruz is smirkily condescending and ultimately juvenile.  He peppers Feinstein with a long list of rat-a-tat questions, as if he’s playing Perry Mason grilling a witness on the stand.  He was trying to embarrass her but only embarrassed himself.  A president must be a statesman, not a smart-alecky horse’s ass.

Rand Paul: As a libertarian, I find myself agreeing with (Republican Senator, Kentucky) Rand Paul on so many different social and political issues. Unfortunately, however, Paul lacks gravitas as a physical presence. The U.S. presidency has a highly ceremonial aspect.  The president isn’t merely a prime minister, a political leader–he’s the symbolic embodiment of the nation. Therefore, physical attributes and vocal style are very important.  Despite the cartoons that caricature and ridicule him as a befuddled boy with big ears, Obama has always known how to handle himself as a candidate and then president. He projects a sober, unflappable confidence and presents himself with elegance and grace–all of which produced his success early on, when Hillary was the frontrunner in 2008.  Many Americans were so sick of Bush, with that lumbering cowboy stance of his.  And remember that terrible moment at a European summit when Bush came up behind the seated Angela Merkel and grabbed her by the shoulders?  She jumped out of her skin.  What an embarrassment to the nation!  I was so happy when Obama took office–finally a president who projected class and dignity.  I’m talking only about persona here, not policies–because while I voted for Obama in 2008, I would not do it again in 2012, when I voted for Jill Stein of the Green Party.

In the primary debates, Cruz will benefit from having a tall and commanding physique, as Bill De Blasio did in the New York mayoral debates.  On the whole, Republicans don’t seem to realize that persona and self-presentation are crucial in a media age.  For example, Rand Paul has obviously had his eye on the presidency for years, so it’s astonishing that he apparently has never given any thought to how he should dress or cut his hair or even stand in front of cameras.  It’s as if his idea of style was flash-frozen in the Everly Brothers era. The tall candidate often has a big advantage in any campaign. It wasn’t the case with Jimmy Carter, but he was an exception.  People do want a sense of implicit authority in the president.  This is certainly what has also held women back from reaching the White House–they don’t present or conceive of themselves in an authoritative way. Dianne Feinstein is the only woman politician in America who has true gravitas. I’m not talking about her policies, about which there is huge division in California.  What I’m saying is that candidates for president must have a perhaps unteachable quality of inward power and steadiness–and Feinstein has it.  Rand Paul neglected this issue–which led to his surprisingly thin skin with the media. You would think after so many years in the public eye, he would be better about handling the press.  But right out of the gate, he was arguing and sniping with a woman TV interviewer.  It came across as petty and tacky–utterly unpresidential.

In the same way, Sarah Palin, who I had great hopes for as a dynamic new type of frontier-woman politician, was way too reactive with the media. She was fighting with bottom-feeders half the time, and they dragged her down to their level.  A major politician can’t do that! You have to learn how to take it but give it back in ways that don’t bounce back at you.  You have to pick the right fights.  It’s a game that every politician must learn–including the ability to satirize the media, which voters love. Being able to handle the media is an essential aspect to running for president, and here is where Hillary has failed abysmally in this campaign. You can’t simply ignore the media or spew memorized talking points at them.  Carly Fiorina is proving herself surprisingly superior to Hillary in knowing how to spar with the media.

Scott Walker: I think that liberals are dangerously complacent about Scott Walker. They’ve tried to portray him as a madman, an uneducated rube, a tool of the Koch brothers.  Right now, Walker seems to be the true GOP frontrunner, but I also feel he lacks gravitas.  He’s not ready for his close-up.  What is this oddity about so many of the GOP candidates–their excessive boyishness, as if their maturation stalled?  But Walker is a very talented and combative politician, with far more substance than liberals are allowing for.

The union issue is huge–because as governor of Wisconsin, Walker went to war with unions and won.  Liberals are caught in the past right now in their rosy view of unions, which were heroically established during the progressive era that reformed the abuses of the industrial revolution.  But the union battle in Wisconsin had nothing to do with exploited working-class miners or factory workers.  In his push to balance the state budget, Walker took action against the middle-class public sector unions, whose negotiations with municipal and state governments outside the arena of private competition have become an enormous drain on local budgets as the economy has worsened. There has been a history of rampant corruption in the public sector unions, coming from their cozy quid pro quo relationships with politicians.  Liberals need to wake up about this!  All they have to do is read the obituaries of the smaller newspapers in metropolitan New York to see how the early retirement and lavish pensions of the public sector unions have grotesquely drained taxpayer dollars.  Obituary after obituary–so-and-so, aged 75, worked for fifteen or twenty years as a policeman or city sanitation worker, retired in his late 40s, and spent the rest of his life on the taxpayer’s dime, pursuing his hobbies of fishing, boating, and golfing.  Great work if you can get it!

And then the teachers’ unions! What a colossal tactical error American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten (a longtime Clinton friend and donor) made several weeks ago in unilaterally declaring her union’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton right in the middle of the Bernie Sanders surge. Probably for the first time ever, American liberals woke up to the corrupt practices that have become way too common in the political maneuverings of the big unions. The point here is that Scott Walker, in his defeat of the public sector unions, drew the roadmap for struggling municipal and state governments everywhere to balance their budgets, as he did in Wisconsin.  Because who ends up suffering the most? It’s the kids.  All that money outrageously pouring into inflated pension plans has been gutting public education and community arts programs.

Exactly how have the teachers unions improved the quality of education in our big cities?  Look at the dilapidated public schools in Philadelphia or in many other cities run by Democrats.  The rigid and antiquated seniority system imposed by the teachers unions has been a disaster–”last hired, first fired.”  So many young and vital teachers have been terminated during budget cuts–the entire future of the profession.  The unions value seniority over quality, and it’s inner-city children who have paid the price.

In my opinion, Scott Walker still lacks seasoning, presidential temper, and a working knowledge of international affairs.  But if Democrats try to use the union issue to take him down, they’re simply empowering him–and we’re going to end up with President Walker.

Jeb Bush: [loud laughter] What a joke! I didn’t remember him at all! This shows what a nothing he is! The major media have been constantly saying that (former Republican Governor, Florida) Jeb is the GOP front-runner, which is utter nonsense. It’s the same thing with Hillary–the polls have just been showing name recognition, nothing more. I’ve been looking at the comments on political news articles since last year, and Jeb Bush seems to have absolutely no support whatever–like zero!  To this day, I’ve never seen an online commenter enthusiastically supporting him.  It’s really strange!  All these rich people throw big money at him, but I don’t know who his voters could possibly be.

If Jeb had run for president after his successful run as governor of Florida, he would have had a better chance.  But he lost his chops during his long hiatus, and he’s coming across as fuzzy and bumbling.  Conservative talk radio is totally against him–he’s dismissed as the ultimate RINO.  On the other hand, let’s see what happens in the primary debates.  It could well be that some of the younger GOP candidates will seem too shallow or shrill, and Jeb will gain because of his amiable personality and fund of government knowledge and experience.  Voters might well go for him in the end as the safe choice.

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