It’s a race to the bottom in this year’s mid-term elections and the bubbling cauldron of discontent is spilling into the streets. As the negative campaigning blossoms all around us I cannot help but hum, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” every time I see candidates passing out literature or trading daily insults in my inbox. My unabashed love for political theater during this silly season sucks me obsessively into the fray, allowing me to once again forgive my New York Mets for not playing October baseball.
This season is a doozy. No incumbent is safe and everything is fair game. Hope has turned to hatred and voters are wandering the streets with pitchforks and torches ready to perform their civic duty and pull the lever, er, fill in the bubble for the candidate best able to harness our rage.
No one, it seems, is more pissed off than Carl Paladino. This guy eats anger for breakfast and spits nails at babies and old people. He’s “taking out” reporters and “taking a bat” to Albany. Oh yeah, it’s on! Unfortunately, “pissed off” is not a legitimate platform no matter how much it resonates with an intemperate electorate. The only thing worse is manufactured outrage, perfectly displayed (again, but sans wagging finger at Hillary) by former gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio, who attempted to hijack the movement against the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.” You can’t fake anger… You gotta live it.
Yet despite the palpable fury that surrounds so many campaigns and the no-holds-barred negative campaigning now taking place, no candidate has found a way to take it to the next level. Let’s journey into awesomeness and storyboard a Paladino commercial that would really stir things up.
The screen is black. Pitch black. The only sound we hear is a match being lit as we barely make out the silhouette of Carl Paladino touching the flame to the end of a cigarette. As the tip burns and the glow of the match illuminates everything but those (really troubling) black circles beneath his eyes (seriously, this guy really needs a nap), the camera slowly pulls back to reveal the candidate on the steps of the Capitol in Albany.
Suddenly the screaming cries of an electric guitar break the silence as Paladino begins walking down the stairs in slow motion with a baseball bat in one hand, gas can in the other and the cigarette dangling from his scowling lips. He pauses at the bottom step and throws the empty gas can to the ground, wheels around deftly on one foot and points ominously in the direction of the building behind him, like the Babe. In one swift motion Paladino grips his own trademark bat, spits the burning butt from his mouth and swings away like Joaquin Phoenix at the end of that M. Night Shyamalan movie and connects with the cigarette, sending it careening toward the Capitol. As the music hits a crescendo and the camera captures every angle of the shot heard round the state, it pulls in tight on the arc of the cigarette cutting through the dank Albany sky. Cut the music. The cigarette falls to the ground, and the camera captures our dark, mysterious hero as he turns in slow motion, gives the audience a wry smile, and begins walking again.
Boom! Flames shoot high into the sky as the Capitol blows to smithereens, engulfing the city in flames and black smoke, with the soundtrack at full tilt. Through the haze Paladino emerges unscathed with his bat slung over his shoulder, the smile now faded from his countenance. He peers menacingly into the camera as the chorus of guitars strike a final exhausted and dissonant chord and he utters, “Next stop. The White House.” Fade to black.
Now that’s what I’m talking about! If Carl Paladino is going to be the Mad Hatter of this Tea Party, then his collateral marketing should look more like the collateral damage this party is causing.
But this isn’t Wonderland, though it seems we have all lost our heads. Political theater may be fun for political junkies, but this is serious business and these are difficult times that require cooler heads and real answers. Like it or not, our political system is a complex and fragile infrastructure built on the backs of the working class who need to be protected, not riled up. It’s time to leave the Tea Party far down the rabbit hole and wake up from this dream. There’s work to be done.
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