I remember when candidates announced their presidential bids in formal tableaux, with flags and members of their family placed just so. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., announced hers on Tuesday while sitting opposite a comedian on a late-night talk show.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., rolled out her campaign a few weeks ago in a three-part sequence of sorts that culminated in an Instagram video of her in her kitchen. She fetches a beverage as she talks to the camera. “Hold on a second,” she says. “I’m gonna get me a beer.”
She then beckons her husband into the frame. “Thank you for being here,” she says to him. “I’m glad you’re here.” Twitter had a field day with that. Why wouldn’t he be there? It’s, um, their home.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., hasn’t made her big announcement yet, but over recent days, as she readied for it, she traced the same steps that Gillibrand subsequently would, also visiting “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.” As part of that appearance, she released a “Mood Mix” video in which she ticks off favorite songs — including Beyoncé’s “Lemonade,” Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” and Funkadelic’s “One Nation Under a Groove” — and sings snippets of some of them, cracking herself up.
That was positively demure next to a video that Beto O’Rourke, another potential Democratic presidential candidate, disseminated recently. Beginning with a close-up of his open mouth, it documented a visit to the dentist — which was his prompt, to be fair, to interview the hygienist about her life near the border between Mexico and Texas.
The 2020 presidential race won’t be the first in which candidates twist themselves into questionable and sometimes mortifying knots to demonstrate how real, relatable, unpretentious or hip they can ostensibly be, but, Holy Mother of Oversharing, it promises to chart whole new frontiers in that regard.
Give partial credit (or blame) to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who has developed an enormous following on social media, where she documents even such humdrum moments as the making of her mac-and-cheese supper.
I’m not sure how to feel about this. There’s definitely nothing wrong with politicians’ efforts to collapse the distance between them and us. But there’s too often something phony and stagey about it, and I worry that energy lavished on this is rerouted from more relevant, substantive endeavors. I wonder how it’s related to any talent for governing or fitness for office.
Also, could a new standard of intimacy and accessibility dissuade qualified people from running? Already plenty of them take a pass, daunted by the grueling nature of campaigns and the invasion of privacy. If voters expect to see candidates raiding the refrigerator and flossing, politics could become even less alluring and more densely populated by egomaniacs than it already is.
For now O’Rourke remains an outlier, and I hasten to add that I find him more compelling than baffling, his dental work notwithstanding. His videos aren’t the whole of him — and some of them are downright charming. But a little goes a long way. A lot becomes unsettling. Where does it end?
Maybe he shows up in Warren’s kitchen, giving her more credible cause for surprise at her company. They do tequila shots as they compete to see who can best mimic the tweets of President Donald Trump. Now that’s a video sure to go viral.