Polished public figure

A friend and I have just had a brief discussion about a political candidate we’ve had interactions with going back almost a decade – back from before their political career. Said candidate has had a long track record of getting involved with various movements. Although if you went looking for specifics on his views, such as the whys and wherefores of his positions on a range of issues – the kinds of considerations you need to make to actually formulate policy – you’d not actually find much publicly available, if at all.

Bromides. Sentiment. Boilerplate statements. Glib.

Zero scandals. Zero analysis, too.

How does a politician commit when they don’t give you much in the way of details to be committed to? Perhaps when they appear to have a personal stake. Although without the pertinent personal details it’s not really possible to know how true that is, and I don’t want to burrow too far into that side of his life.

At any rate, there’s only a single policy area he’s advocated for that he seems to have a personal stake in. What about all the others?

Maybe – and I’m just putting this out there – maybe on the level of local politics he’s committed himself to things that the rest of the country isn’t privy to. That’s a possibility. But he isn’t running for local council. It’s not unfair to want to scrutinize him in light of a broader context.

Said political candidate became a topic of discussion between friend and I after he weighed in on a controversial topic my friend has been studying at great length. This he did by sharing a memefied bit of rote social justice advice, lavishing superlatives upon the party ally he shared it from. Again, no evidence of consideration or reflection was evident.

Rote. Marketable.

Understandably discussion with my friend didn’t go on for long. There was hardly a surfeit of details to consider.

I haven’t read much of politician’s writing, because to be fair he hasn’t written terribly much. What I have read of it is all motherhood statement and declaration of intent to further certain issues and outlooks – and that (but not how) he will do the job. Oddly enough, he doesn’t further any of these issues themselves in writing. This is odd, because at the very least he’s been willing to write about himself in relation to these issues. You’d think the issues themselves would be relevant.

I once attended a talk he gave. He introduced himself as an activist in relation to a given, loosely-defined movement that had some momentum going at the time. The objectives of the movement were barely referenced, much less discussed at length. He talked about himself and that was more or less the sum of it. Upon reflection, I should have been less charitable at the time.

Digging around for why this guy was even on the stage to begin with didn’t help much. People were impressed with him but I wanted to know why. It turns out that the impressive thing about him was probably his ability for people to be impressed by him. People would literally reference other people being impressed by him, to answer any question of why the guy was impressive to begin with.

It was being impressed all the way down, or at least, if there was something material at the base of this apparent recursion of regard that set the cycle in motion, I couldn’t find it.

But you don’t get the feeling that the guy’s a narcissist, or at least, not the grandiose kind. There’s no imminent doom of him exploding in a fit of rage. Not a snarl, nor a twitch. There’s self-regard, but not terribly much in the way of aggrandizement.

He’s even friendly. But he’s calm. Too calm. Calm when a human should be frustrated or excited just a little. And he doesn’t seem terribly curious, which is odd, because a lot of the people in the demographics he seeks to serve could face an array of potential consequences based on the specifics of the policy areas he’s professed an interest in.

It’s almost as if he doesn’t actually care. It’s almost as if every time he’s made a display of associating with a cause or an organization it’s been nothing more than a branding exercise, and any decision to stick it out (or quietly disassociate) has been purely on the basis of PR.

It’s almost as if there’s nothing to the guy. If not the violence, at least Christian Bale’s line from American Psycho is evoked; “…I am simply not there”.

To infer anything about the guy’s inner political mind, you can’t look to his largely threadbare political statements. There’s just not enough of that to work with. You have to look to the kinds of conversations you know he has to have participated in behind closed doors, and to the decisions he’s made subsequently. In as far as you can infer moral decision making from this, though, in his case you still can’t distinguish morality from marketability; the possibly moral is also the definitely marketable in all cases. Or at least, in all of the cases I’m aware of using the limited privileged information I have available.

He’s clearly had differences with the directions taken by more than one organization he’s been involved with, and has left them in his past with a career-savvy degree of quiet. Not that grandstanding is what the public needs more of, this kind of silence isn’t what you want from a politician either.

If something was morally significant enough for him to part with former allies, some who’ve themselves gone on to campaign with other parties with sitting members, then it relates to differences the electorate are probably interested in. Why is the electorate being denied these discussions? Why is the substance all behind closed doors, rather than in his public declarations?

It wouldn’t be a bad idea for journalists to quiz him on these matters during future election campaigns. “What was the issue that caused you to part with so-and-so, who has themselves gone on to campaign for such-and-such? What will be the most likely sticking point between your party and theirs when it comes to debating this issue?”

This is, of course, if he found his differences with former allies to be morally significant, rather than just promotionally inconvenient. If his past disaffiliations have been PR motivated, then that’d be politically uninteresting. It’d also possibly leave him standing for nothing given how little else he’s actually put out there.

If this guy stands for something, perhaps in a more local context, then his rather enthusiastic supporters need to sell it to more than just the local electorate and their Facebook friends. At the very least it would let us know just a little more about his party. Presumably they’re proud enough of the guy to want to do this, right?

Alternatively, if they can’t do this because there’s nothing to sell, then perhaps they need to realize they’ve bought into a budding personality cult.

~ Bruce

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