Monday, December 19, 2011

Horses in Politics—Rules of Thumb

     Various forms of the word horse are often used as metaphors for different types of people in politics or government. In fact, the use of the terms has become so codified that even novices—especially novices—can use these metaphors as rules of thumb in understanding political leaders.
     Might they also be used to help undecided voters how to vote? Hmm. Let’s take a look at the horses in politics and what recognizable traits they have. I’ll mention by name only the political horses from the past. Identifying the horses of the present will be the responsibility of you, the voter.  Please note that a politician can be more than one kind of horse.  For example, a show horse can also be a Trojan horse.
     In probably all legislative bodies, workhorses do from 80-90% of the work, but show horses get 80-90% of the publicity. Work horses, by the way, make up perhaps 10% of all legislators.
     U. S. Congressman H. R. Gross (R-IA, 3rd District, b. 1899, d. 1987) was one of the few workhorses in Congress. He was said to have read every spending bill that was introduced in Congress. By a special exception to the rule that bills should be numbered consecutively, he introduced HR 144 (as in gross) each year, demanding a balanced budget. He never went on a congressional junket at taxpayer expense, he and his wife lived frugally and never went to lavish parties; and his wife managed his office without pay. Time magazine called him “a useful pest.”
     Reading the newspapers today, it’s hard to believe that a congressman like H. R. Gross ever existed.
     Most politicians, to some degree, are show horses. That’s how they get elected. A show horse is one who sees every political issue, not as a human need but as a public relations opportunity.
     For that reason, show horses are almost always incompetent. Whenever the public sours on a show horse’s policies, the show horse doesn’t see it as a failure to meet human needs; he sees it as a public relations failure. He changes his public relations strategy, usually with window dressing or shallow gimmicks. None of this changes the fact that he’s “all show and no go.”
     Then there are race horses. A race horse is a politician for whom political campaigns are an end in themselves, and who have no patience for governance. They seem to prefer the cheers of crowds to actually getting things done.  Two examples of race horses are the late George Wallace in the United States and the incarcerated Chen Sui-bian in Taiwan.
     George Wallace was a perpetual candidate for various political offices. Although he was governor of Alabama several times, he spent more time running for the presidency and for reelection to the governorship than doing the job of governor.
     Chen Sui-bian was president of Taiwan for eight years. Instead of building a nation, as his supporters had hoped, he wasted the entire eight years staging rallies and other attention-getting gimmicks to rally the party faithful.
     A stalking horse is a candidate who has no interest in winning the election, but he’s in the race to help another candidate or potential candidate. A stalking horse usually lies and says that he’s a serious candidate.
     A perfect example of a stalking horse was the independent presidential campaign of H. Ross Perot in 1992. The two main candidates were President George H. W. Bush and Arkansas’s former governor Bill Clinton. Perot’s candidacy took more support from Bush than it did from Clinton. When it became clear that Clinton would win even without Perot’s splitting the Republican vote, Perot dropped out of the race. When the Bush campaign started to rally and threaten the Clinton campaign, Perot re-entered the race.
     Sometimes a stalking horse will enter a race just so his party can have a name on the ballot. When another candidate of his party enters the race, he drops out.
     A dark horse is a candidate who the corporate-owned media say has little or no chance of winning. The term originated with a nineteenth-century short story about two horses running a race neck-and-neck for the entire race. During the last few seconds of the race, a dark horse came from behind and won. The corporate-owned media may be unaware of the story. In any case, we can draw hope from the story any time the media shills tell us that a given candidate is a dark horse.
     At the 1860 Republican National Convention, Abraham Lincoln was a dark horse candidate.  In 1980, Ronald Reagan was a dark horse.
     The terms gift horse and Trojan horse are sometimes used in connection with one another. A gift horse is usually a political policy. A Trojan horse may be a person or a policy. A Trojan horse is a politician or a government policy that is designed to look like something beneficial to the electorate but which is intended to betray the people to their enemies. When the Trojan horse is a person, then the gift horse is the treasonous package he is offering people who are foolish enough to trust him.
     We know about jades, or jaded horses. They are the politicians whose time has come and gone. If, as Shakespeare wrote, life is a stage, the jades are the poor players who keep coming back for encores long after the cheering has stopped. (Excuse me for mixing metaphors, but sometimes mixed metaphors are fun—like the feller who could “hear the distant rumbling of the handwriting on the wall.”) Jades are such sad apparitions that I won't embarrass anyone by naming names
     Many jaded horses amble about the halls of Congress years, or even decades, after their constituents have put them out to pasture.  As lobbyists, many of them are like disembodied souls returning to their former places of abode, as if unaware that they had died.  (To see which former congressmen have become lobbyists, click here.  At last count, there were 370 of them.)
     Many other jades continue in office long after they've outlived their usefulness.  Their constituents continue to vote for these pitiful souls, as though embarrassed to inform them of their demise.  
     During political campaigns, many a candidate—especially if he’s a show horse—likes to present himself as a horse of a different color or a knight on a white horse. A knight on a white horse is entirely mythical, though many people are gullible enough to believe in political saviors that this symbol represents. A horse of a different color represents the sort of change that the voters desire. In most cases, the candidate’s colors change once again after he’s elected—only then for the worse. You then see his true colors, which are the same colors as the ones you thought you’d been replacing.
     So how do you know before the election whether the candidate truly is a horse of a different color, or if he’s only wearing camouflage? To use another horse term, you look at his track record. If whatever you see in his past over a period of years is what you can reasonably expect from him after he’s elected.
     In many decisions we have to make, it’s hard to sift through the all the information, misinformation, and disinformation to find the few grains of truth we seek. When making a decision on whom to vote, you may try asking yourself, “What kind of horse do I want?” Then try to identify the candidates by the horses they most resemble. If nothing else, it beats flipping a coin.

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