Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Jimmy McMillan of the Rent Is 2 Damn High Party: Reincarnation of Theodore Roosevelt?

New York gubernatorial candidate Jimmy McMillan burst onto the national political scene this week after clips of his debate appearance Monday night went viral. McMillan is founder and apparent CEO of the "Rent Is 2 Damn High Party," and most of his talking points during the debate seemed focused around the general idea that rent in New York City is, well, too damn high.

The first thing I noticed about McMillan was how ready-made he seems for a Saturday Night Live skit starring Kenan Thompson. The folks at 30 Rock wouldn't even have to write much; Thompson could simply recite a bunch of actual quotes, like Tina Fey did in her brilliant Sarah Palin sketch. The second thing I noticed was McMillan's distinct similarity to former President Theodore Roosevelt. Stay with me here.

The most obvious similarity between McMillan and Roosevelt is the distinct facial hair of both men. Roosevelt's bushy mustache is one of his most defining physical features, while McMillan sports a positively Victorian mutton-chop-double-goatee combo that would make even General Burnside blush. In addition, both men have characteristic affectations: Roosevelt was rarely seen without a pair of frameless eyeglasses, while McMillan notably wore a pair of gloves throughout Monday's entire debate. Roosevelt was privately ridiculed at Harvard for his foppish clothing, and no one can accuse McMillan of being a slave to fashion. However, Roosevelt was a patron of Abercrombie & Fitch a hundred years before the outfitter became standard attire among the nation's preppy teenagers -- could we as a society be headed for trends of outlandish facial hair, buttons and umbrella hats? Only time will tell.

Two men simply ahead of their times
Another similarity between the two politicians is the tall tales which surround each man. McMillan said he wears gloves because he was exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, but is depicted with bare hands in multiple online photographs. Roosevelt, legend has it, inspired the name for the "teddy bear" when he took mercy on a cornered bear while on a hunting trip. Likewise, McMillan also seems to be earning his place in pop culture as he is featured in the Village Voice and Gawker. Look for the autotuned remix by the end of the week.

There's also the subject of each man's military service and fighting prowess. McMillan's website says he was in the Army from 1966-68 during Vietnam, and won three bronze stars. Roosevelt, of course, led the famous "Rough Riders" cavalry regiment in the Spanish-American War. McMillan describes himself as a "karate expert," while Roosevelt was a champion boxer at Harvard. Would you want to get in a fight with either of them? Me neither.

McMillan is running for Governor of New York, an office which Roosevelt himself once held. Additionally, both politicians have campaigned tirelessly on a single populist issue. Roosevelt spent most of his time fighting corporate malfeasance and political corruption, while McMillan tends to focus on the argument that rent is too damn high. Living in South Carolina, I can't comment on whether rent in New York is in fact too damn high or not. But rent is pretty damn high in Columbia, and the number of Seinfeld jokes/plot points which concern rent and apartment location (roughly 95%) leads me to believe that McMillan's populist message could appeal to a great deal of New Yorkers disaffected with too-damn-high rent levels. Roosevelt himself once lived in a Manhattan townhouse, so it's entirely possible that Teddy himself would have joined McMillan's cause.

Lastly, there are the independent campaigns and outlandish party names. While many American political parties have been oddly named (the Whig and tea parties come to mind), Roosevelt pretty much takes the cake among presidential candidates. When Roosevelt ran against his old vice president, William Howard Taft, in 1912, Roosevelt was the candidate of the Bull Moose Party. Compared to that, something like "Rent Is 2 Damn High" isn't so bad.

There have been a number of historical comparisons between President Barack Obama and the man depicted right next to Roosevelt on Mount Rushmore, Abraham Lincoln. McMillan's slogan "rent is too damn high" is already entering the political lexicon, and may become this year's "Yes we can" or "speak softly and carry a big stick." No doubt many other historians will try to jump on the Roosevelt-McMillan bandwagon as the latter's political star rises, and who knows -- maybe McMillan himself will become a pop-art phenomenon just like Obama. Actually, let me go ahead and get that out of the way right now:

No comments:

Post a Comment