Elbow-dropping the President

By The Columbia Chronicle

To those of you who survived the great election of 1998, congratulations. Go ahead and pat yourselves on the back, but make it a quick one. In case you haven’t noticed, the race to claim the presidency in 2000 is well underway; hell, the 2004 presidential race begins in two weeks. Things move so fast in politics, it’s so easy to lose track of who’s running for what, when, and why. In any case, keep reading, and you won’t be confused anymore. You’ll be scared.

First, the good news.


And now, the candidates. In one corner, weighing a whole lotta pounds… Hulk Hogan. Nevermind that he’s a bad guy now. He wants to be our President. I will now repeat this paragraph, simply for shock value.

In one corner, weighing a whole lotta pounds… Hulk Hogan. Nevermind that he’s a bad guy now. He wants to be our President.

In the other corner? Ted “Tomahawk” Turner, the ruthless hothead behind CNN (the best example of embarrassing journalism on television today), the Goodwill Games (his attempt to compete against the Olympics) and World Championship Wrestling (yes, he’s Hogan’s boss), among other deep-fried enterprises.

Turner talks a big game, often shooting himself in the foot with his own big mouth. He praised the mass suicide of the Hale-Bopp cult two years ago, and he’s all too eager to talk about his charity work, all the while chiding the likes of Bill Gates for not being so generous as he. Problem (if you can call it a problem) is, some public figures — Gates included — would rather not pat themselves on the back every time they pass out a buck.

Ted Turner would also like to be our President.

Pretty simple so far? That’s okay. Ross Perot will muck it up in no time. And if three’s a crowd, don’t tell Dan Quayle; he’s running too. And then there’s Colin Powell. He’s not running.

What you’re reading is not a lame attempt at hilarious fiction (since, for one thing, it’s not funny). This is a true story. So go ahead and brace yourself; it may not be the greatest show on earth, but the circus is coming to town.

As long as there has been democracy, there have been flashes in the presidential pan. And for all we know, Hogan and Turner may lose interest tomorrow. But as it stands now, each is as valid a candidate as any on the ballot. Thus, we’re in danger of facing the most trivialized presidential election ever.

So by show of hands, who’s actually surprised? After all, we’ve been asking for it for years now, and with the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, we finally got it: our own little Fergie, a world leader whose work will be immortalized in Hollywood long after he leaves Washington. With Bill Clinton in 1998, the President is little more than just another celebrity, a spokesman for his own self, scandalous and all, rather than a political trailblazer.

In an almost perverse sort of way, it’s good to see the American public undermine the authority of the president. While international rags run front-page stories about governments that punish dissent with violence and even death, page six is loaded with editorial cartoons making fun of everything from the president’s weight to his wishy-washy style of leadership. Television, radio and other media pull no punches, while web sites splash doctored photos of the prez getting it on with Lewinsky. And there’s not an ounce of fear in the entire recipe, not a consequence in sight. It’s as brutally amusing as tragedy can be, a country married to democracy but enjoying a fling with anarchy. For those of you who still believe the president can palm America’s future like a Nerf Ball, the rest of the country has some big, big news for you.

But that brings us to an interesting question: How much power do we think the president has? How many times have we heard people laud Clinton for his crackdown against drugs, his brilliant fight for education or his role as an economic Hail Mary? Clinton’s high approval rating rides on these three wheels more than any other, which is odd when you consider that drugs are still everywhere, that education is entirely a state-controlled issue, and that the economy doesn’t even rest solely on the shoulders of our country, let alone our president. Still, his policies, whatever they may be, are celebrated by people of all stripes of wealth, intelligence and insanity.

Thus, the president’s effect on issues he can’t even touch is for real, if indirectly so. When the U.S. went to war in 1991, for example, George Bush’s approval rating hit the sky; when the country went through a recession the next year, it plummeted. In both cases, Americans took their feelings out on the messenger, and the latter probably cost Bush a second term.

But such mistaken assumptions about the prez are not reserved for an uninformed public. If only it were that simple. Rather, our president is not unlike your David Hasselhoff or McGyver: Sure, we think he’s a twit, but those foreigners, they just LOVE him. People around the world feed off his every word; he is, after all, the leader of the free world. That’s no small feat when you consider how many millions of people can’t take freedom for granted the way we do.

Make no mistake: Our president, be it Clinton, the Hulkster(!?) or Dan Quayle (STOP!), has a fistful of clout. But it’s the illusion of power that shouldn’t be ignored. With the interpretation of presidential power in our own hands, how do we know what to mock and what to take seriously? Where do we draw the line between what’s really true and what’s accepted as such? If we even consider electing a pro-wrestler or a righteous but misinformed entrepreneur to office, we may think it’s a hoot, but will other countries get the joke?

It’s not an issue of worshiping the presidency, or even respecting it. Nor does it have to do with obeying our founding fathers, or any of that neo-patriotism that caused all the confusion in the first place. Rather, it’s as simple as understanding the presidency and the impact it has not only on a glass-half-empty American public, but the rest of the world as well (we don’t run this place on our own, you know). When we stop playing Hollywood with the president and come to grips with what his job really stands for, we can finally use it to its fullest capacity. After all, a lot of people think the whole world is going to end in a couple years. And if the Hulkster has anything to say about it, they may be right.