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The United States’ Sad History of Soft-Brain Presidential Campaigns

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by Xan Holbrook

As much as the world loves to pretend it doesn’t give a shit about the US election, it is the one event in world politics which draws the most deserved attention (I say deserved, as people ought to fret at least a little bit about whatever Caligula or Nero has the largest nuclear arsenal at their fingertips, as opposed to overhyped, bullshit f**ryt*le w*dd*ngs). That said, for a stately occasion, it’s often conducted with less dignity than a methamphetamine-fueled mud-wrestling competition in an Alabama Biker’s clubhouse.

I’m sure that I could write an entire article about the fiasco that led to the current dominion of idiots, but that feels as if it’s reaching for the low-hanging fruit. Biden’s apparent comeback after Super Tuesday ought to have anyone who Campaigns for a Trump-Free America shaking in their boots, as those who recall the last DNC coup d’etat see it happening again, and I don’t feel particularly funny about that.

So let’s distract ourselves for a brief bit before the Circus carries on, and have a good laugh at the weird shit that other power-mad cretins have tried in past shots at the White House instead.


The late Australian scribbler and verbal ninja Clive James had a fair few genius aphorisms to his credit (his description of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron as “a brown condom stuffed with walnuts” remains a particular favorite). In 1977, three weeks after Jimmy Carter was sworn into office, James trained this scythe-like verbiage on Gerald Ford at the Bob Hope Classic golf tournament:

“In the Bob Hope Golf Classic, the participation of President Gerald Ford was more than enough to remind you that the nuclear button was at one stage at the disposal of a man who might have either pressed it by mistake or else pressed it deliberately in order to obtain room service.”

After a dismal and embarrassing stretch as Commander-in-Chief, Ford had to defend as incumbent against Carter, a rising Democratic star who managed to impress the normally unshakable Hunter S. Thompson:

This included the now obligatory piece of political pantomime, the televised debate, in which Gerald Ford revealed his uncanny natural ability to play the horse’s arse.

The moment when most agree it was all over for Ford was when he emphatically declared, despite all the evidence and trillions spent to the contrary, that “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.” The moderator, Max Frankel, interjected and explained in the plainest, GED terms that this was, to put it mildly, a misjudged statement, and gave Ford the opportunity to correct himself. Rather than allow Frankel to kill his reelection prospects, Ford decided to commit political suicide instead and doubled down on his answer like the complete bellend he was.

I shit you not. 



The 1992 Presidential Race was an odd one, in retrospect. After the fall of Communism, learned people started to spout a lot of bollocks about the End of History, as if America was going to be King Shit of Planet Earth for all time, and that the left-right political dichotomy needed a shaking-up. 

Although there has always been shady money and billions lurking behind the scenes (an all-too-depressing reality we have to deal with in our age of Super-PACS and Citizens United), this election saw Ross Perot – a billionaire, and complete nutcase – stand as an independent. Bonkers as he was, treating the whole pageant for the joke it is to many in the 1%, and pulling out after hearing about a sinister plot to sabotage his daughter’s wedding, he was nothing compared to his ennui-riddled running mate.

Former Admiral James B. Stockdale, a Vietnam veteran and academic, appeared at a Vice-Presidential debate and attempted to woo the crowd. His opening line is now legendary:

He perceived this opening line as witty, charming and self-effacing. To everyone watching, as he appeared to melt under the studio lights as the debate went on, like a chocolate bunny rabbit, the whole affair was positively Proustian.


Being a patron of Broke-Ass Stuart (hopefully), then you’re au fait with meme culture and all the inherent silliness that comes with unlimited communication and base human instinct. The mass schadenfreude I’ve described comes close, but the 2004 Iowa Caucuses revealed probably the first legitimate political meme of our age.

In the wake of the Iraq War, the collapse of Enron and many more disasters for George W. Bush, the race was on for the Democratic candidate to take him and his apocalyptic riders down. One Democrat man who stepped up with the same cavalier, let’s-roll attitude of the Republican Right was Governor Howard Dean. Both a firebrand and a reliable political player, Dean showed strongly in the Iowa Caucus, coming third, and standing a good chance of taking the Democratic ticket. Until he made a speech, listing the states he was going to run and win in, and…

Although nothing less than a career-ender at the time, one thing one notices if one reads the comments is that, in the current age and knowing what we know about online behavior, this man very well could have memed his way to power. 

In the end, though, John Kerry was selected and flopped in the face of Bush, with Christopher Hitchens writing him off after a friend commented, ruely, “Oh dear – he’s gone goose hunting again.”

It can be embarrassing that the eyes of the world are on America as it airs its dirty laundry, I know. But, lest we forget, that rulers are not superhuman, and gaffes like these are essential that we keep it that way. 

In our current environment, where men of power can pull off shit like this and still be elected by a landslide, then pointing and laughing is an act of resistance.

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