No More Red Placebo No More Blue Placebo

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[The following is excerpted from my new book Don’t Think Of A Republican – How I Won A Republican Primary As A Lefty Progressive And You Can Too, which recounts the rhetoric and strategy of satirical candidate H.F. Valentine’s unprecedented 2022 primary run. See the whole book here.]

Excerpt from H.F. Valentine’s speech for Crossing Party Lines, Barter Hollow Chapter

I got a relative that, back in 2010, called me up and started going on and on about how Barack Obama was a socialist. And I said, “Relative, Barack Obama ain’t no socialist.” And as you can imagine, he said, “Yes he is a socialist.” And I said, “No he’s not.” And he said, “Yes, he is.” And this went back and forth for a little while. And then I asked him, “Relative, do you know any socialists?” And he said, “Hell, nah, I don’t know no socialists.” Then I said, “Well, how in the hell do you know he’s a socialist?” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “If you really want to know one way or the other whether Barack Obama is a socialist, don’t take my word for it. Just go see what all the big shot socialists are saying about him. Find a list of socialist publications in print or online and give ‘em a read. See whether they believe Barack Obama is one of them.” And then we changed the subject, talked about some family shit, and then got off the phone.

Then about two weeks later, phone rung, and it was my relative. I picked up the phone and said, “Hello, relative.” He said, “Hey, man. I checked out those socialist publications like you said. Guess what? They can’t stand Obama.” I said, “Huh, ain’t that some shit?” And my relative never referred to Barack Obama as a socialist again. At least not with me. 

Now, I tell you that story, not to make fun of my relative, but to illustrate how easy it is for us to be sure about what someone else is or isn’t, in spite of us not really having anything to base this declaration on.

And, if we’re honest, I think we can admit that we all have done this at one time or another. I know I’ve done it. 

Have you done it? Have you ever caught yourself calling someone a label that you weren’t completely sure what the label meant? If I asked five different Republicans right now what a socialist is, I might get twenty different answers. If I asked five different Democrats what a fascist is, I know I’d get twenty different answers. The same goes for words like terrorism or treason or liberal or conservative or right or left or whatever. None of these words are helpful if they’re only helpful for the one using it as a weapon.

You know and I know, these labels are, more often than not, just bombs thrown at a political opponent. They don’t serve the purpose of understanding, or clarifying, or beginning a good faith discussion. They’re just bombs.

And the problem with a bomb like this is that when it’s thrown into a political campaign, it doesn’t just hurt the candidate it was thrown at. It hurts the voters as well. Because, like I said, it’s not meant to ignite healthy debate. It’s meant to extinguish it, or prevent it from ever getting started. 

And unless we have a clear understanding of who people are and who people are not, outside of the silliness of labels, we’re going to continue the destruction of our political process. 

So, as a candidate who is Target Numero Uno for such a disingenuous weapon, one of my first tasks is to defuse as many of these bombs as I can before they explode. 

The problem is we live in a soundbite world, and you only have so much time to listen to campaign speeches. So as much as I would like to, I can’t have a five part debate on what each of these labels is or isn’t.

All I can tell you is that I am uninterested in checking off boxes from the Party checklist. Are you interested in that?

I am uninterested in adhering to the demands of a label, letting someone else define me with their particular criteria. Are you interested in that?

I am uninterested in keeping with any political identity constructed by consultants, PR firms, or establishment gurus. I am uninterested in keeping with the wishes of big money campaign donors. Are you interested in that?

My primary opponents are going to say I don’t want to address whether I’m this or that. And I’m saying they don’t want to address the actual work that they would do in office. There’s a reason why they want to focus on me. And it’s so they don’t have to focus on themselves. Because they know they have nothing to offer you but the status quo.

And I am uninterested in the status quo.

Are you interested in that?

The truth is, in this game of electoral trickery, these labels can mean pretty much whatever you want them to. In other words, by their rules, they don’t mean anything. 

And if the labels don’t really mean anything, then our identities don’t have to be what they’ve told us they have to be. We can be whoever we want to be. We can vote for whoever we want to vote for. 

You ever hear one of these Democrats use a negative label to describe their Republican opponent, but when you take a real look at what they’re offering policy-wise, it ain’t really about shit?

That’s them trying to feed you the Blue Placebo. Making you think your cure is in a whole bunch of nothing.

Likewise, when a Republican uses some other label against a Democrat, but ain’t really offering anything of substance either, that’s them trying to feed you the Red Placebo. Making you think your cure is in a whole bunch of nothing.

Mainstream Democrats and Republicans want you to pay attention to the color of the pill, but not what’s inside. Just like my opponents want you to pay attention to an arbitrary label but not what’s inside their own campaign. But more than that, they don’t want you to pay attention to the policy solutions inside mine. 

Every time you hear one of these labels, one of these bombs, thrown at me, remember what I said. 

Don’t let any candidate, nor anyone in the media, or anyone else attempting to influence you politically, don’t let any of them fool you with derogatory labels in the service of you believing your cure is in a whole bunch of nothing. 

No more Red Placebo.

No more Blue Placebo.

All I’m asking you is to look at what’s inside.

Note from H.F.:

It wasn’t hard to foresee that the first and possibly most important problem to solve for a campaign like this would be to diffuse the aforementioned bombs before they exploded, or maybe before they were even thrown. To take these political labels and turn them into boomerangs. Where, if the bastards thought to throw one, they should just assume it’s going to come back and blow up in their face. In short, we had to become rubber and make them glue.

We had to make it a shameful act to run a campaign that relies on the intentional ambiguity of labels. We had to convince voters that the very act of using these labels was an affront to their intelligence and their stability. That our opponents were counting on voters being dumb enough to hear a word and then not hear anything else after that. That, if I may use their own tropes, they would be triggered by a mere label and run to the safe space of the status quo.

This didn’t mean our opponents were not going to throw these bombs anyway. They most certainly did, and they did because it’s pretty much all they had. The test for us was how the media was going to play it. And that meant we were going to have to make the same kinds of criticisms, early on, as it pertained to how the media covered our campaign. The goal being that, whenever the media tried to echo our opponents’ smears of this label or that label, we would have done enough work preparing voters for this kind of attack that it would make such media figures look like stooges of the establishment and guardians of the status quo. And, for better or worse, this wasn’t that difficult considering the level of distrust Republican voters already had for the majority of corporate media entities.

If done right, the ultimate goal was to benefit from such attacks. To take such rhetorical grenades and transform them midair into political cupcakes. A tasty little gift from our opponents, proving us right about how paper-thin their case really was. 

And that’s exactly what they turned out to be. Oh so tasty little gifts.

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