“Surrogates.” Anybody remember when these people became indispensable to the election cycle? Anybody? I seem to recall a time when a candidate was running for office, and he or she was all you really heard from. Maybe there was a spokesman, the coffee-swilling guy wearing an iffy suit who acted as campaign manager, but that was it. Other politicians would toss in some criticism or some platitudes from the sidelines, but election coverage was basically an anchor saying “And here is Governor Clinton giving a speech on health care,” and they’d play a clip (that one probably laden with STD-related information), and there might be some analysis. That would be it – anchor, clip, talking head. Now, when I turn on MSNBC, CNN, whatever, it’s like I’m watching “Where Are They Now, Politics Edition.” Gee, I wonder what Geraldine Ferraro’s been up to…hey, there she is! Wesley Clark, wonder if he’s still really into sweaters…hey, he’s on TV talking about Obama! “Reverend” Jesse Jackson, last time I heard from him he was fathering babies out of wedlock…well shit, there’s Jesse! (And I guess he’s really into projecting, because why else would a serial philanderer want to cut an as-far-as-we-know faithful family man’s balls off?)
Can anybody out there in the political arena explain to me the benefit of surrogates? I’m assuming they are to act as proxies, getting in front of a camera and spouting a candidate’s message when the candidate himself or herself can’t be there because they’re in front of a different camera. All right – then tell me if this concept sounds like a good idea: take a person who is somehow engaged in politics, peripherally (an academic, business person, etc) or directly (another elected official or a former elected official), give them some talking points, and put them on live TV. Keep in mind this person doesn’t work for the candidate, probably doesn’t entirely agree with the candidate, has been involved in national politics for several years which means they probably have a rather large ego, and is probably, at least in part, acting as a surrogate to raise his or her own profile, even if it’s at the expense of the candidate. Certainly, nothing can go wrong there!
The only time you hear about a surrogate is when they biff it, go off script, and say something that embarrasses the candidate. Otherwise, they’re wasted air. Jesse Jackson wasn’t getting much attention as an Obama surrogate until he casually remarked that he’d like to castrate the guy he is supporting. Wesley Clark was bopping along just fine until he said that John McCain’s POW experience isn’t necessarily presidential experience. No one remembered Phil Gramm even existed until he piped up with this “mental recession/nation of whiners” clunker. Samantha Power wrote a critically acclaimed book about a sorta-important topic (genocide), and no one paid a lick of attention to her until she called Hillary Clinton a “monster.”
Does having a bunch of surrogates line up behind you really mean anything? If you’re on the fence about a candidate, does Geraldine Ferraro casting her lot with Clinton make up your mind? These aren’t people who can persuade by force of personality – if they were, they’d be running themselves (or in Ferraro’s case, they wouldn’t get creamed in the general). They’re people who might have a few things to say about a given issue, but not a one among them is really going to pull votes. Probably the only surefire surrogate from that respect would be Jesus, and that guy had a bad habit of speaking his mind when falling in line would have made his life a lot easier. Good at staying on message, though.