It’s easy to take the media repetition that America’s 2016 election year is “the year of the outsider” to heart. It even sounds like what we need in an election cycle: something truly different. Sources ranging from PBS (“Will 2016 be the year of the political outsider?”) through The New York Times (“‘Outsider’ Presidential Candidates Prove Competitive in Fund-Raising”) – even the Christian Science Monitor (“Revenge of the outsiders: Why 2016 presidential race is breaking the mold”) and all the way to Fox News (“…Outsiders rule 2016 GOP field…) have all deemed this year notable for ‘outsider’ candidates.
PBS, for example, highlights Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson – presuming these to be evident examples of political outsider status. Fox news discusses Trump in relation to Biden (when Biden was still suspected he may announce) and to Hillary. The Christian Science Monitor has a similar list: Fiorina, Carson and Trump – though they include Sanders (as many others do). The New York Times spends its time mulling over how much money everyone was able to raise – implicitly condoning this as a measure of political legitimacy – and even imply that Cruz should be considered within the ranks of the outsider.
We’re told of our intervening outsider candidates… that Donald Trump means business, that Ben Carson means business, that Carly Fiorina means business and that Bernie Sanders means business. With redundant headlines and repeated catchphrases, 2016 is the year of the outsider that means business and can raise money.
The list of outsiders (in non-scientificly determined order similar to media frequency): Trump, Carson, Fiorina, Sanders and Cruz. (O’Malley hardly gets mentioned as an outsider?) Yet somehow even this most qualified list of outsiderness contains:
- A billionaire who nearly ran as a running mate to President Bush in 2000, did run for president and planned presidential campaigns in at least three other years. A billionaire who came within a few points of President Obama in voter polls during the 2012 election. A billionaire who makes sweeping contributions to political campaigns he does not run in, including hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to the Clintons – who attended his wedding reception. A billionaire who is a deputy cadet out of the New York Military Academy and is receiving campaign contributions from the US Department of Defense.
- A Republican Party darling, appointed a national advisor to President Bush in 2004, former Fox News analyst and Republican moral voice – former cadet coronel – with campaign contributions from high finance, the US Army, and the US Air Force. A national advisor formerly on the board of Kellogg.
- A wealthy executive and near former running mate to president McCain who worked for the CIA and was appointed by the Secretary of Defense to (among other things) recommend staffing changes inside the DoD and within the Pentagon. A former wealthy executive (‘homestating’) Republican Senate Candidate for California, an executive who ruled out running for Senate again to give President a shot instead. A former-CEO that has a net worth likely exceeding a hundred million dollars and sees regularly yearly salary of over $1 million and still receives campaign contributions by Lockheed-Martin, Goldman Sachs and other large players in investment banking.
- A Senator who has been running for office since 1968: who had the-to-be President Obama campaign for his Senateship in a race also supported by the chairman of both the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee. A senator who shares an economic intellectual neoliberal center alma mater with current President Obama and Milton Friedman. A senator who was cofounder of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, representative for Vermont within the House of Representatives, and married to the a director of the Vermont Economic Development Authority.
- A Senator who prepared testimony for the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton, provided private counsel for John Boehner, was a domestic policy advisor to former President George W. Bush, assisted building this presidents legal team and campaign strategy, and was part of the leadership of the US Supreme Court cases that led to the Bush victory in the Florida election recount case. A Senator that recruited now Chief Justice John Roberts for the Bush Republican campaign, was associate deputy attorney general for the Department of Justice and directory of policy planning for the Federal Trade Commission. A senator who was Representative of Texas for the Supreme Court for four years, and who is married to the former director for the Western Hemisphere on the National Security Council (under then National Security Advisor Condolence Rice) and an early retiree from financial investment management for Goldman Sachs.
The alma maters of this ‘outsider’ group are: Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, the University of Chicago, Princeton University and Harvard. Every one of our outsiders are Ivy League.
In what way do Senators, Billionaires and former employees of the Department of Defense count as ‘outsiders’? Why, when the majority of these candidates either currently hold office or have run for president in the past, is this an outsider year? Why do former possible running mates and organizers of previous presidential campaigns count as outsiders? Appointees to leadership positions advising US Presidents?
Maybe it’s not because this year features ‘objectively’ outsider candidates – but ‘relatively’ outsider candidates that are more on the outside than is usually seen in a United States Presidential election?
The presidential race in 2008 included Chris Dodd, John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, Bill Richardson, Jim Gilmore, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and Tom Tancredo. The presidential race in 2000 had Herman Cain, Pat Buchanan, Ralph Nader, Donald Trump, and Steve Forbes. These candidates either were and are considered political outsiders or would be if we applied the criteria applied to our outsiders this year.
Pat Robertson (media mogul) ran against (actor turned governor) President Reagan’s reelection in 1988 along with (reverend) Jesse Jackson. We need to remember that during the 2008 presidential candidacy President Obama was considered, celebrated for and outwardly branded a political outsider.
If candidates who have previously served as officials, appointees, electoral managers – as appointees by Presidents and Secretaries of Defense – if Billionaires and Executives and Senators and Moguls are outsiders – why is this year the year of the outsider?
But let’s say that this year really is special. That now, more than ever before, there are candidates outside the innermost sanctum of the Republican and Democratic Parties that have a chance at winning. Let’s say that’s true. What would it imply about the American political system that all of our ‘outsider’ candidates are Ivy League graduates with significant histories inside the state? How would we have to adjust what we consider – what it would even then mean – to be an ‘insider’? And why did we take only having a choice between two insiders lying down?
If it is not money or influence that determines one’s outsider status, then maybe there is another common denominator. Maybe an outsider is one who will remain outside his/her government office as much as possible, trying to make sure as few bills as possible are passed, making sure to always say no to anything the president might say yes to.
Unless it’s a military spending bill (the F35), then even Bernie Sanders will say yes.