You know what politics clearly needs? More gimmicks. Serious discussion of issues is so passé. But have no fear — Republican Rick Snyder, a candidate for Michigan governor, is here to rescue you from the drudgery of politics. He’s about as gimmicky as possible.
Snyder’s first campaign advertisement ran during the year’s Super Bowl — a ballsy move to start with. It billed Snyder as “One Tough Nerd.” A voice that sounded like the guy who does movie trailers railed against ineffective career politicians. And in swept Snyder with a call to “reinvent Michigan.” The ad also billed Snyder’s 10-point plan as “so detailed that, well, it’s likely no politician could even understand it.”
The ad’s (kind of overbearing) condescension aside, it’s pretty gimmicky. He has a catch phrase and a slogan, for Pete’s sake. Snyder isn’t a politician in these ads; He’s a product.
It gets worse. Snyder recently held a contest online to choose his next campaign ad, appropriately named “Pick Rick’s Ad.” One ad compared Snyder to some of the most recognizable “nerds” in the world: Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Apple CEO Steve Jobs. The other ad had the gumption to compare him to the “nerd” Clark Kent/Superman.
If the ads themselves weren’t enough of a publicity stunt, the competition to choose the next one took Synder’s gimmick to a whole new level. It’s like “American Idol.” Vote now for your favorite candidate! You, America, will decide who will become the next (pause for dramatic effect like Ryan Seacrest does) Michigan governor!
This campaign’s format was a risky move for Snyder. It’s nontraditional — not to mention egocentric. It could be off-putting for a lot of voters, especially since Snyder is running as a Republican. You know how us Republicans love tradition. It doesn’t present Snyder as a serious politician and it doesn’t make his stances on a lot of issues clear. Instead, he’s presented as a brand. Stepping away from real politics and into the market is dangerous territory for a serious candidate.
For me, it’s the Superman option in Snyder’s “Pick Rick’s Ad” campaign that really grinds my gears. As a diehard Superman fan — hey, I can get my geek on — I’m kind of insulted. Snyder is undoubtedly smart. But like the song says, he’s no Superman.
On the other hand, this risky move might actually pay off. Snyder’s a businessman — and a fairly successful one at that — and he’s selling himself like a product. And Americans love their consumerism. People will remember him when they go to the polls. People are going to think of Snyder as “that guy from the nerd commercials.” And that name recognition could be a valuable tool for someone who has relatively little fame in Michigan. And after the debacle that Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm is sure to leave in her wake, people might actually go for the “One Tough Nerd” thing.
That actually kind of scares me. I would expect Michiganders to choose leaders based upon the issues, not who has the catchiest campaign. I hope that voters have the sense to choose action over advertising.
But my (perhaps poisoned with obsession) feelings about Superman and annoyance with gimmicky advertising aside, the real deal is that Snyder actually has some good qualities that make him electable, according to the biography on his campaign website. He is a University grad — which wins him major points in my book — and he’s actually a remarkably intelligent man, if the MBA and Law degree he obtained by age 23 are any indications.
And Snyder is a successful businessman. He was a big wig at Gateway for years. And I buy into the concept that Michigan needs a businessman at the helm (horrible pun absolutely intended). The state’s economy is, all delicacy aside, in the crapper. And maybe it will take the business savvy of someone like Snyder to turn around the sloppy budget and failing business climate.
I’m not ready to throw my hat entirely in Snyder’s ring yet. Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox is also a strong contender for the Republican nomination. And so far, he hasn’t attempted to liken himself to any comic book characters — which, for me, is working in his favor.
But I’d still have to say that Snyder is a little more corporate mogul Lex Luthor than mild-mannered Clark Kent. Though I doubt he has sinister plans to use Kryptonite to precipitate Superman’s downfall and take over the world in a blaze of tyranny, I still think his advertising gimmick lacks substance. And I want my leaders to have substance.
Rachel Van Gilder is the Daily’s editorial page editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.