David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

“Bugs Bunny” Theory of American Politics

Brandon Sun, May 16, 2016 - David McConkey

Eight years ago, during the 2008 American presidential election, I happened to read about the Bugs Bunny theory of American politics. Does that theory describe today’s race for president? Are you kidding? Of course it does!

The “Bugs Bunny” theory of politics was proposed by commentator Jeff Greenfield on the website Slate. Greenfield mused that two personality types can often be identified in presidential politics.

One personality type is like Bugs Bunny. Bugs is “at ease, laid back, secure, confident,” Greenfield noted. Bugs “never flails at his opponents or at the world.” 

The other is like Daffy Duck. Daffy is “ever at war with a hostile world,” Greenfield said. “He fumes, he clenches his fists, his eyes bulge, and his entire body tenses with fury.”

Whenever there is a clear choice between the two, Greenfield said, Bugs wins. Think of Obama beating McCain in 2008. Or Reagan beating Carter in 1980.

The two characters were on dramatic display in 1960 during the Kennedy-Nixon debates. “John ‘Bugs’ Kennedy was cool, restrained, ironic,” Greenfield observed. “Richard ‘Daffy’ Nixon was brooding, suspicious, scowling.”

Greenfield’s theory reminds me of Marshall McLuhan’s notion of “hot” and “cool.” According to McLuhan, Nixon was “hot” and fit with the “hot” medium of radio. Kennedy was “cool” and suited to the “cool” medium of TV. McLuhan pointed out that voters who only heard them on radio thought that Nixon had won the debates!

The Bugs Bunny theory applies elsewhere. Like here in Canada – just last year. Justin Trudeau was Bugs Bunny as sure as Stephen Harper was Daffy Duck!

We citizens, however, do need to be careful that we are not just swept up by Bugs-like charisma! Fortunately for us: Trudeau is comfortable with science. Did you see him answering a question at that university quantum physics lab?

And the future will be all about innovation, science and technology. So it’s great that – unlike Harper – Trudeau is cool with science and learning.  

Enough already with serious Canadian stuff! Let’s get back to U.S. politics!

Among their candidates, who is most like Daffy Duck? I say Ted Cruz! Cruz campaigned as a severe evangelical Christian and angry conservative. And, I kid you not: Cruz hangs around with back-to-the-Bible pastors who preach the death penalty for gays.

And nonreligious progressives were not the only ones unnerved by the creepy Cruz. Republican bigwig John Boehner, a Roman Catholic, called Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh.”

On the other hand, who is the candidate most like Bugs Bunny? Well, hello there: Bernie Sanders! Sanders is especially like Bugs when he draws on his background. And not that of bloviating legislators from Congress, but that of wisecracking comedians from New York City! Sanders even has had bit parts in comedy films.
 
Cultural historians say that Bugs Bunny himself is part of this hilarious tradition. Among these comedians: Groucho Marx, who was performing when Bugs first appeared in the 1930s; to Jerry Seinfeld and Amy Schumer today. And the shtick goes on, “Live: from New York!” Watch and laugh when Sanders is portrayed on “Saturday Night Live” by Larry David – co-creator of TV’s “Seinfeld.”

Now, what about the main contenders: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? I am afraid that Clinton is Daffy and Trump is Bugs.

Trump is a master communicator, entertainer and persuader. Just like Bugs, Trump will sometimes stop the action, turn to the audience, and let them in on the joke.
 
“Being presidential is easy. It’s much easier than what I have to do,” Trump told his supporters at one rally. “I have to rant and rave and keep you people going, or else you’re going to fall asleep on me, right?”

Imagine a future debate. There will be Hillary “Daffy” Clinton: harsh and cranky, endlessly listing policy proposals. Then there will be Donald “Bugs” Trump: destroying his opponent with a few withering zingers. 
 
Think of it this way: who could possibly defeat Trump? I think that requires a cool cat who could outfox Trump with flair and humour. And that is not Clinton! Bill, yes. But not Hillary!

So, Clinton is in big trouble. As Greenfield said when he first suggested his theory of politics, “Bugs Bunny always beats Daffy Duck.”

And if “Bugs” Trump wins the presidency this November, the whole world will be saying a lot more than just, “Eh, what’s up, Doc?”

* * * *
See also: 

Could We Have a Donald Trump in Canada?

Donald Trump: Stranger Than We Can Imagine?

Citizen Active

 



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Brandon, Manitoba
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