Something interesting happened in the last Presidential election. 2008 ushered in a new era in the devolution of the Republican Party: the politics of personal gain, a phenomenon unwittingly stumbled upon by no less than the great accidental strategist, Sarah Palin. And although she was incapable of naming a single source of information to draw policy analysis from, she was quick to understand that her “folksy, straight-talking” façade played well with a base that sees the world in black and white. They weren’t interested in elaborate or nuanced answers, all they cared about was hearing that their preconceived notions are right — and yours are wrong.
Sarah Palin played the part of a celebrity well. For every short-coming in political savvy, she made up for in media manipulation, parlaying her persona into book tours, media blitzes and television shows. Losing the election was the best thing to ever happen to her. It might sound harsh (the truth often is), but her earnings prospects would never be near what they were if not for her stumble into the politics of personal gain. But what Sarah Palin happened upon accidentally in 2008, has now been relentlessly exploited by the Republican Party ever since.
Do not be fooled into believing that there are coincidences in politics. It was no accident that Mike Pence, governor of Indiana signed into law a bill which would potentially allow discrimination towards LBGT people under the guise of “religious freedom,” all while talks about a potential 2016 White House run were reaching the boiling point for him. In his case, he grossly miscalculated the current environment of acceptance and tolerance for equality and ended up removing himself from contention. But not all candidates are as unlucky with their choice of groups to bully.
The politics of personal gain means that in the future, candidates like Scott Walker will continue to push deeply unpopular laws (i.e. union busting) simply to set themselves up with a platform for later when they decide to cash in and run for President. Scott Walker has grossly mismanaged the Wisconsin economy; perhaps even purposefully so, because a poor economy creates great scapegoats: like teachers, librarians, and nurses. Further, by establishing himself as a “union buster” he signaled to the Republican kingmakers, the Koch brothers, that he was fit for service. Truthfully, the Republican candidate with the most financial backing has the best shot of winning. Scott Walker simply enacted laws to put himself in the best chance of winning their support. It was never about the unions, it was always about setting himself up for personal gain.
How about Rand Paul and his libertarian firebrand? His voting record suggests a dyed-in-the-wool Republican, but his self-aggrandizing is for his own personal brand. Who the hell is Jim Gilmore again? How about Carly Fiorina portraying herself as a “strong woman”? Besides sending thousands of jobs overseas, how exactly have her political positions distinguished her from the other candidates? Ben Carson? A milquetoast joke. Clearly, someone with the personality of a wet paper bag is only running for whatever media attention they can get (that, and he conveniently ticks off the diversity box for the GOP.)
Then you have the gang of rabid Christians: Jindal, Cruz, Huckabee and Santorum whose purpose is to appeal to the southern conservative when they publish another book on faith, family and guns. Or perhaps they’ll tour the country after their fake campaigns are put to rest, stopping at illegitimate universities to inspire good, young (white!) students — for a small fee of course. Hell, former President George W. Bush gets $100k a pop for speaking to people in a homeless shelter, no irony lost on the fact that he helped put them there. The rest of the clowns are supporting actors in the political theater. Perhaps the curtain call is enough to satiate their needs and stroke their egos.
Which leaves us with one anti-establishment, no holds barred straight-talker. A figure who is independent, politically pure and doesn’t owe Wall Street any favors. I’m talking about Bernie Sanders obviously. His counterpart, a brash, arrogant, materialistic egomaniac who (unfortunately for him) will never popularize the comb-over, is the absolute embodiment of the politics of personal gain.
Donald Trump has the vocabulary of a 3rd grader, the political savvy of Kim Jong-un and the personality of Ted Bundy all wrapped up in the gleaming gold wrapper of swag. Don’t get me wrong, he is a serious threat to win. Americans, when fed up with what they perceive to be the problem, are willing to give anyone a shot. But Trump’s intentions were never to actually make this country a better place. The one reason he is running is simple: him. He loves himself, he loves his money and he loves the attention he gets. And while four bankruptcies might indicate someone who is not as financially sophisticated as they might think, he did the math. Donald Trump knows that nothing will raise his personal brand more than a failed or successful White House run. He probably doesn’t care much which. Obviously winning means four years of non-stop attention, but even the run up is raising his profile like none other. Name one other job application that can create a bigger media frenzy than this. You can’t. Nothing matches the publicity of a White House bid. Donald Trump is the politics of personal gain.
Most of the Republicans running are doing so for monetary gain. Over half of them have no shot of being elected and they know it. But they’re taking the opportunity to pontificate to raise their personal brand, grab some media attention and then go on media/book tours ala Sarah Palin.
So, if you ever wonder why a politician is pushing a particularly egregious agenda, in all likelihood they’re preparing for a future (half-hearted) shot at the White House so they can cash in big time. What’s more disturbing is that this doesn’t seem to bother your average Republican voter one bit. So they can complain until they’re blue in the face about “disingenuous” politicians, but if they don’t even call out the blatant money grabbers, then they have no right to complain.
We used to inspire children to want to be President of the United States so that they could affect change, create a more perfect union, and remain an irreplaceable and necessary force in a rapidly changing world. The goal was to serve the American people first and foremost, and maintain our position as a world power. But the Republican Party has changed the game. No longer will children aspire to the office for the altruistic principles aforementioned, but so that they too can become rich and famous.
KIENAN MICK is a resident of the beautiful, lake filled Twin Cities. He has a degree in Economics from the University of Minnesota, and an MS in Applied Economics from the University of North Dakota. In his spare time, he enjoys amateur photography, nature hikes, and bird watching. His interests lie in “alternative” economic systems where the public, unions, and co-ops take a greater stake in our economy.