A Point of View: The rude, vulgar US presidential election

Image from 2012 election nigh

The race for the White House can appear a ridiculous spectacle to the casual observer. But look closer and it's far worse than that, says PJ O'Rourke.

To outsiders, the US presidential election contest must look rude, vulgar, overcrowded, angry, stupid, and dangerous - a busload of football hooligans.

That is not how it looks to an American. In American Football the hooligans are on the field, being paid to play. We have busloads of presidential candidates instead.

And when those busloads of presidential candidates roll into our towns, we Americans would, if we legally could - first amendment, free speech rights and all that - jam the bus doors shut and send the candidates down the road to the next town, or to someplace much warmer.

Who are all these jacklegs, high-binders, wire-pullers, mountebanks, swellheads, buncombe spigots, boodle artists, four-flushers and animated spittoons offering themselves as worthy of our nation's highest office?

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PJ O'Rourke
  • A Point of View is usually broadcast on Fridays on Radio 4 at 20:50 BST and repeated Sundays 08:50 BST
  • PJ O'Rourke is an American satirist and journalist

Do they take us voters for fools? Yes. Of course. But are they also insane? Are they delusional? Do they think they have the qualities to make a good - or even an adequate - president of the United States?

Do they think they have even one such quality?

The dignity of Washington? The intellect of Jefferson? The moral stature of Lincoln? The boldness of Roosevelt? The charm of Kennedy? The eloquence of Reagan? Or the gentlemanly nature of George Herbert Walker Bush?

Has the office of the presidency diminished in stature until it attracts only the leprechauns of public life?

Or have our politicians shrunk until none of them can pass the funfair test: "You Must Be Taller than the Clown to Ride the White House Tilt-A-Whirl"?

The two most likely eventual nominees are "Clinton" and "Bush". Therefore the electorate will go into the voting booth, see the names, think to themselves: "Gosh, I'm getting forgetful. I did this already." And leave with the ballot unmarked. Voter turnout will be 6%.

At the moment, the most prominent candidate is Donald Trump. Which recalls a quip by the American political satirist HL Mencken.

"Democracy," said Mencken, "is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

Scott Walker at the Billy Goat Tavern, Chicago Scott Walker at the Billy Goat Tavern, Chicago

Trump claims to be worth billions. Wall Street insiders are sceptical. Trump himself says his net worth varies from day to day according to what mood he's in.

Many a politician has fibbed about his or her humble economic circumstances. America's ninth president, William Henry Harrison - a wealthy landowner and former governor of Indiana Territory - made much of being "born in a log cabin". And America's wannabe next president, Hillary Clinton, claimed she and her quarter-of-a-million-dollars-a-speech husband were "dead broke" when they left the White House.

But Trump is the first office seeker to tell a real American tall tale about all the money he's got. Trump is a financial Davey Crockett, Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox rolled into one - according to Trump.

(Trump certainly has the manners and taste - and the coif - of an ox.)

Trump's prominent due to his bad taste. We Americans appreciate bad taste. You've seen us - every summer, in our tourist hordes, wearing yard-wide orange athletic shorts and T-shirts with rude slogans. If we didn't appreciate bad taste, how would we get dressed in the morning?

And Trump's foreign policy? He's under the illusion that he's 10 times richer than he is, believes President Obama was born in Brobdingnag to the Queen of Sheba and thinks childhood vaccination caused the movie Rain Man. Russia, China, Iran, Isis, the Taliban and Hamas will be paralysed with fear. Who knows what this lunatic will do?

What he'll do is build hundreds of Trump casinos, Trump hotels and Trump resorts in Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, Raqqa, Kandahar and the Gaza Strip. Then they'll all go bankrupt the way Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Plaza Hotel and Trump Entertainment Resorts did.

Putin left trying to palm off Eastern Ukraine on angry bond-holders and China auctioning distressed property in the Spratly Islands. Actually, this might work.

Thus, so far, Trump is the best America can do.

Who are the also-rans?

Hillary Clinton speaks in front of a tractor

Hillary Clinton retains her iron grip on second place in the Democratic race - because whoever's in first place is so far out in front we don't know who he or she is.

I mean, at this point in the 2008 American presidential race, Barack Hussein Obama was about as likely to get the Democratic nomination as a small-time community organising senator from Illinois with a name like a bad joke about a jihadist website.

Hillary carries more baggage than the Boeing she used as secretary of state, visiting every country that later blew up in her face in her quest to fulfil the US secretary of state's mission, which is to accumulate frequent flier miles.

On the upside, she's familiar with the White House and knows where the extra toilet paper is stored and where the spare key to the missile launch briefcase is hidden (Truman balcony, second pillar from the right).

The candidate who is so far out in front of Hillary, that we don't know who he or she is, is socialist Senator Bernie Sanders.

He's a socialist! A European-type socialist! He says so himself!

Of course, for many people, especially Europeans, there's nothing unusual about a European socialist. But in the US, a European socialist looks out of place.

It's as if an American showed up in Westminster Abbey wearing yard-wide orange athletic shorts and a T-shirt with a rude...


Well, you know what I mean.

Anyway, Bernie Sanders is in favour of making the United States more like Europe or, at least, more like Canada.

Bernie Sanders Bernie Sanders at the Labor Day Parade in New Hampshire

He'll never get elected. Americans do not want Canadian weather.

A better choice for the Democrats would be Vice President Joe Biden.

But political pundits say Biden is "too prone to gaffes."

Here are a few of Joe Biden's "gaffes".

On live TV he said Obamacare was "a big 'f-word' deal."

He told Democrats in Congress: "If we do everything right... there's still a 30% chance we're going to get it wrong."

And when he was running against Obama in the 2008 primaries, he described Obama as a "mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy".

Vice President Joe Biden Joe Biden: Gaffe-prone or just candid?

These are "gaffes." Political pundits speak in a different language - Punditese. Sometimes it's difficult to translate Punditese into English. The meaning of "gaffe" in Punditese is obscure. The best I can do to explain it is to point out that Punditese doesn't have a word for "truth".

On the Republican side, there is, besides Trump...

Let me pause here. Those of us who are native Republicans feel the same way about Donald Trump as native Scots feel about Fat Bastard in the Austin Powers movies...

Chris Christie in New Hampshire Chris Christie (right) at an event in New Hampshire

As I was saying, on the Republican side, there's the large governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie. Perhaps you've seen him wearing yard-wide orange athletic shorts and a T-shirt with a rude slogan in Westminster Abbey.

Governor Christie is rude. Questioned by a voter at a town hall meeting, Christie said to the inquiring citizen: "SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP."

That's a more lively campaign slogan than the other candidates have.

Americans applaud such concise statements of foreign and domestic policy goals.

Chris Christie is very American. Although political pundits fear that Christie may be too American even for America.

Libertarian Senator Rand Paul is favoured by Republicans who consider themselves "fiscally conservative but socially liberal" .This means they want to get high and have sex while saving money. And who does not?

Then there is Jeb Bush. He's got it all. He's young (for a Republican). He was governor of Florida, a state where balloting incompetence and corruption are vital to the Republican Party. And he is rolling like a dog in campaign donations.

Jeb Bush at a county show in Iowa Jeb Bush - "one Bush too many"?

Jeb Bush's only problem is, he's one Bush too many. Not to worry, Jeb will legally change his name to George Herbert Walker Bush. Everybody likes him. And he only served one term so he's constitutionally eligible to run again.

This puts Barbara Bush back in the White House. America needs her. America's rude, vulgar bad taste seems to be almost protected by a trade union. If that's the case, Barbara Bush is our Margaret Thatcher.

Yes, to outsiders, the US presidential election contest may look rude, vulgar, overcrowded, angry, stupid, and dangerous - and that's because it is.

A Point of View is broadcast on Fridays on Radio 4 at 20:50 BST and repeated Sundays 08:50 BST

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