A week in America | 07 October 2022

It's Mid-term season in the U.S. and Martin explores which colourful characters have been trying to make a name for themselves.

Martin Liptrot

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From New York to Washington DC and Chicago, Sacremento to Atlanta, Austin and Tallahassee.

For a politics-nerd like me, and one who especially loves the media and campaign events which bring those who rule or want to rule to our attention, America is the place to be during election season.

This week has been an especially fruitful one.

America’s news channels, hungry for anything which will attract viewers to their 24-hour rolling news feed, have been gorging on a plentiful banquet.

This week has seen plenty of exotic fare being served up too.

The news of the rumoured coup in China, the decline in fortunes for Putin, and sabre-rattling in North Korea have all seen TV and cable political correspondents breathlessly briefing America about the blessed shortcomings and failings of the rest of the World’s leaders.

Of course, the circus which is the modern UK Conservative Party has drawn special attention.

For Americans this is still the party of Winston Churchill, grand oratory, and the elite.

So, sipping our coffees and toasting our bagels, we have been left aghast at how bumbling, incompetent and amateurish the UK’s ‘born to rule party’ has become. Something, it seems, has gone very wrong in the Tory gene pool.

In America, where almost every political interaction is choreographed and packaged like a Hollywood production, viewers at least expect professionalism from their politicians. 

Like me, they will have been flabbergasted to see the new UK Prime Minister appearing in TV studios looking like a befuddled lottery winner thrust unwillingly into the public eye, rather than the polished performance you would imagine from someone who had been preparing for this moment all her life.

I know she was trying to channel her inner-Margaret Thatcher, but US viewers and probably billions around the world who have never heard of the Iron Lady, just saw a nervous woman, dressed in what looked like charity shop finds from the 1980’s, stumbling through interviews, squinting and staring, and leaving dreaded ‘dead air’ on TV and, worse, BBC local radio.

It was almost so bad, it made you want to look away. Genuine car crash TV.

But if Britain can sink low, there is only one way America is going to go. Lower.

We are racing with pace towards the mid-term elections. These are the ‘halfway through a political term’ moments when the voters can speed up or slow down reforms or throw roadblocks in the way which means nothing can get done.

We will be electing State Governors and municipal leaders, but most importantly all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and a third of the seats in the US Senate.

These elections, important as they are, don’t attract the same level of fever as a Presidential Election, and typically only attract a 40% turnout at the polls.

Perhaps that is why so many colourful and questionable characters choose the mid-terms as their moment to step into the spotlight.

Mid-terms often see politicians who had been booted out of office years earlier, especially those removed from the glamour of Governor’s Mansions up and down the nation, stage a comeback.

And in these post-Trumpian times, where anybody with a bit of name recognition can raise hundreds of millions and enter a campaign, we see celebrity candidates.

Perhaps the two highest profile ones are TV host Dr Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and ex NFL star Herschel Walker in Georgia.

For those who don’t know, Dr Oz is a bit like a cross between Lorraine Kelly and Dr Hilary Jones, spooning out medical advice from the sofas of breakfast TV while happily commenting on the latest news and soap stories. To be fair, the Turkish-American is a renowned heart surgeon and is the first Muslim to be nominated by either party for a seat on the U.S. Senate.

Herschel Walker is a Heisman Trophy winning NFL star, playing for the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles amongst others. He was also a member of the 1992 US Olympic Bobsleigh team.

It is probably fair to say, Walker’s campaign is unorthodox. He is backed by Trump – who the football star served on the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition. As did Dr Oz. But his position on key issues have raised eyebrows.

Asked about environmental initiatives, the 6ft 225lb star replied: “A lot of money, it’s going to trees. Don’t we have enough trees around here?”

Talking about school shootings; “Cain killed Abel”.

But his position on abortion is the one likely to end his electoral hopes.

The Republican Party, especially in Georgia and across the South, has a fierce Christian fundamentalist streak to it. Recent Supreme Court moves to roll back female reproductive rights have been cheered by the Republican loyalists, so recent allegations and claims that Walker has funded abortions for girlfriends doesn’t sit comfortably with the Christian-Right.

It has got so bad, even Trump is rumoured to be withdrawing his support for the NFL running back. ‘Walker for Senate’ signs are quickly disappearing from the lawns and homes of the GOP’s millionaire funders across the Peach State and beyond.

But in the land of political bizarro, the Dr Oz campaign tops that.

Currently, the Trump-backed medic is embroiled in what has become known as ‘Puppygate’.

It has been revealed that Dr Oz and his colleagues were responsible for animal experimentation on a thousand pigs, rodents and rabbits. But when it was revealed more than 300 puppies were also slayed in the experiments, it became an election issue.

Seizing on the news, Oz’s political opponent Democrat John Fetterman branded him a ‘puppy-killer’ and quickly started selling t shirts, lapel badges and bumper stickers declaring “Dog Lovers for Fetterman”.

“When you frame someone as a puppy killer, it’s controversial. It’s attention-grabbing,” Syracuse University Professor Jennifer Stromer Galley told BBC America.

“America loves its dogs,” she added. “To be on the wrong side of this particular story is hard as a candidate.”

Revelling in their opponent’s pain, #puppykiller is trending amongst Democrats and their supporters.

Fetterman’s campaign has also released footage from 2014 when Dr Oz was called before Congress and was dressed down for pushing ineffective health treatments on his TV show. He promised lawmakers he learned from his mistakes.

But why leave it at that.

There is a US phenomenon whereby The Simpsons portends real life.

In the animated cartoon series, a ‘snake oil’ promoting TV quack called Dr Nick Riviera promotes his questionable fat loss cures, potions and pills to resolve all ailments.

The Fetterman campaign team have released social media clips of Dr Nick Riviera interspersed with Dr Oz handing out similar claims for ‘miracle cures’, herbal medicine, and diet remedies.

“Too bad there’s no miracle cure for being a total fraud,” Fetterman tweeted alongside the video. The midterm elections are a month away but one things is for sure, it will only get weirder.

Martin Liptrot

Martin Liptrot is a Public Affairs, PR and Marketing consultant working with UK, US and Global clients to try and ‘make good ideas happen’.

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