Most candidates here in New Hampshire have perfected the celebrity personality: shimmering smiles, selfie-mastery, and a quicker than lightning autograph (this fact alone-- that people desire these candidate’s autographs-- attests to their celebrity status). It is a striking, though not entirely surprising, aspect in the life of a presidential candidate.
At the same time, many people in America feel as though there exists this huge divide between themselves and nationally-recognized politicians. They see politicians as corrupt and two-timing, many times serving the interests of lobbyists and big corporations. Again, for many, it is the apparently phony grin and (for the men, at least) the seemingly perfect comb over that adds to this aura of dishonesty.
Though they may try, our politicians don’t act like everyday people. You’ll rarely hear the majority of them admit to being wrong, or that they might just not have the perfect answer on a specific point. Crowds of people that come to hear them speak are cordoned off. Secret Service officers, for example, envelope Hillary Clinton wherever she walks. Divides such as this appear to be the literal embodiment of an intellectual and mental distancing of politicians from the lives of everyday people. Worse is that we play into this frenzy of celebrity-politician. We show up and allot to them this special status by screaming when they walk into a room, hustling for a quick selfie, or shoving a neighbor aside for a quick autograph on a campaign sign. I have witnessed all of these things occur here in New Hampshire.
In my opinion, however, an active democracy, while requiring respect for those leading us, should never be brought to its knees in worship of a political idol. In doing so, we relegate our status to a much more powerless one. In essence, we end up placing ourselves at the foot of a politician, not considering ourselves as equals. Although our national leaders try to appeal to everyday people (because it is the everyday people that vote them into office), we, in fact, do not treat them like everyday people. To drive this point home, I suggest calling your United States Senator’s office and trying to get past the intern answering the phones.
Now, I’m not suggesting that a U.S. Senator can just take everyone’s calls. Nor am I suggesting a former Secretary of State and First Lady shouldn’t have a full security detail. However, what I am suggesting is that we do not see ourselves in our politicians. We, in so many ways, consider ourselves very different. This is a huge problem for our society. Sad-- this is not what democracy is supposed to be about.
My hope, unrealistic as it may be, is that people begin treating politicians as their peers in democracy. It will limit the ability of national politicians to ride the wave of celebrity, and instead force them to have real, down-to-earth conversations with voters. If we truly want representative government, then we should be treating our elected officials and election hopefuls as people just like ourselves-- questioning their intentions, and getting to the bottom of whether or not they genuinely represent our best interests. Sadly, the veneer of celebrity skews our ability to approach these people in such a way.
Perhaps the politician-celebrity is a necessary evil. One could argue it's here to stay.
Nonetheless, I would still prefer a different approach.
-- Alex Betley is a junior from O'Fallon, MO studying Politics, Economics, and Social Thought. He is in New Hampshire as part of a St. Olaf political science class studying the nominating process of presidential candidates.