Sunday, November 20, 2011

No Hugs No Learning

I love analyzing and debating the current state of our political discourse with my friends (aka my social network, in modern parlance).  For me the best reflection of our politics is offered during the Republican President debates, a comedic reality show now beginning its 12th episode of the season.  I enjoy every recurring character and every madcap economic scheme each week.  It’s a laugh riot, as long as you can suspend disbelief for 90 minutes.  I have recently learned, however, that viewership ratings for the debate series among my network have been woefully weak.  Some friends have even gone so far as to insult the proceedings as “a show about nothing”.

I see that as a key part of the entertainment value of the debates.  Maybe that’s why I am hooked on both Seinfeld and the GOP debates.  Both define mindless entertainment.  The episodic hijinx of the near-weekly debates parallel the penultimate show about nothing, Seinfeld, in more than just the non-stop hilarity.  The character parallels are uncanny.

Each week, Mitt Romney turns in a convincing performance as Jerry, the star of the show.  Mitt sure knows when to leave the stage on a high note (episode 172), and privately frets that his warm up acts are ruining the audience for his future appearance at the top of the ticket (episode 157).  So far during this campaign, Mitt has lived the life of Even Steven (“Everything seems to even out for me.  I have one friend who’s up, and another one who’s down.”)  Nothing sticks to Even Steven, or Even Mitt.  (Elaine: "One of these days, something bad is going to happen to you.  I just know it."  Jerry: No, I’m going to be just fine.”)

The political intelligentsia wonders aloud about Mitt like Jerry’s mother lamenting, “Who wouldn’t like you?”, while the base of the party would prefer that Mitt give up his political dream and enter the Bloomingdale’s Executive Management program instead.

There is no question that second banana Rick Perry is playing a convincing Kramer.  Remember, it was Kramer who thought it was a good business plan to rent rickshaw rides in NYC (episode 173).  It is easy to hear Perry sincerely drawl the same point as TV’s original hipster doofus: “We could hire the homeless.  Why don’t we strap something to them?  They’re always walking around town.” 

Watching Perry speak, you have to wonder if like Kramer, he was once hit in the head by Crazy Joe Davola (season 4, episode 4) and would fall into spasm at the sound of Mary Hart’s voice.  One similarity between the two characters is hard to ignore:  “He’s a loathsome, offensive brute…yet I can’t look away.” (episode 38).  To quote Jerry when considering a Perry candidacy, “The last thing that guy is qualified to give a tour of is reality.” (episode 155)

It has been well documented that it is hard to find a black guy on Seinfeld or within the GOP, so finding a match up for Herman Cain is challenging; however, I recognize a lot of George Costanza in Mr. Cain.  George once summed up his philosophy in one sentence:  “It’s not a lie, if you believe it to be true.”  (episode 105).  Sounds like Cain to me.  George was a lovable character despite his issues with sex and anger management, but he is clearly competitive like Cain.  After all, he once won a contest to become Master of his Domain (episode 51).  Cain has also been caught referring to himself in the 3rd person ("George is getting upset!")

The lazy comparison for Ron Paul would be any of a number of old man characters that kept Seinfeld interesting for 9 seasons.  The anonymous and kooky Steinbrenner.  The aging Uncle Leo (“Voters – Hello!”)  The proud Izzy Mandelbaum (season 8, episode 17) who tried to outdo his younger competitors (“It’s go time!).  Mr. Mendelbaum had a younger son in the same business, just like Ron has Rand.

All that said, Paul is the best match for Frank Costanza.  Paul might be the only candidate on that debate stage who would openly embrace the holiday of Festivus as a demonstration of his libertarian bearings (episode 166).  I can easily hear Paul saying, like Costanza, “I find tinsel distracting.”  For me, there is no other Must See TV event that would match the power of Ron and Rand Paul competing in the Feats of Strength.  “No one eats until Rand pins his old man.”

Newt Gingrich is easy.  No other candidate fits the evil genius profile of postman Newman quite like Newt.  Thought in some episodes to be the intellectual of the group, Newman is sought after to be the judge to adjudicate the ladies’ bicycle custody dispute between Kramer and Elaine.  Newman: “You must cut the bicycle in two!”  (season 7, episode 13) Gingrich took to the campaign trail in May, then took a 10 day vacation.  Newman didn’t like delivering the mail if it rained (season 7, episode 20).  Neither enjoys the hard work of their chosen professions.  Newman’s ethics were always questioned by Jerry.  Newt was run out of Congress for ethics violations.

One more thing – they both are a little chubby around the middle.

Michelle Bachmann has no corresponding character on Seinfeld.  She is closest to Funkhouser’s crazy sister (season 7, episode 1), if you like Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm.  If forced to choose, however, Bachmann would be the Virgin, Jerry’s girlfriend who designed closets (episode 51).  It was the Virgin who recommended the “mad idea” that Jerry replace all his hangars and bars in his closet with hooks.  What Jerry said of the Virgin at that time could apply to Ms. Bachmann on any given Sunday: “You’re quite mad you know.”

Bringing up the rear on our sit-com cast is Father Santorum.  Lloyd Braun’s experiences parallel Rick Santorum nicely.  Both were run out of government, Braun for his recommendation that the Dinkins administration force NY residents to wear name tags; Santorum for, well, opening his mouth.  He lost his reelection campaign in Pennsylvania by 18 percentage points.  Braun was locked up for being crazy; Santorum is still on the loose.  “Serenity now; insanity later.” (season 9, episode 3)

Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld promised one another when Seinfeld began that their show would have a guiding philosophy - No Hugs, No Learning.  It's too bad that the Republican National Committee has adopted the same philosophy for its nomination reality program.

Will this GOP nominating season ever come to an end?

“Oh, not long.  5 – 10 minutes.”(season 2, episode 11)

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