2016 U.S. Politics Envisioned by Groucho Marx

by James M. WallDuck Soup

British critic Patrick McCray has described the Marx Brothers’ 1933 film, Duck Soup, as “an absurdist essay on politics and warfare. . . which can stand alongside (or even above) the works of Beckett and Ionesco.”

Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) is Groucho Marx’ perennial comedy sparring partner. In Duck Soup, she is the wealthy benefactor of Freedonia, a 1933 female equivalent of the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson, or Haim Saban.

In relating to Mrs. Teasdale, Groucho is as insulting to her gender as Donald Trump is to any woman who crosses him. In his attitude toward diplomacy, Groucho sounds as clumsy and adolescent as Ted Cruz when he calls for carpet-bombing.

The narrative of Duck Soup’s Freedonia envisions U.S. politics between Monday’s Iowa caucuses. the New Hampshire primary, Tuesday, February 9, and the presidential election November 8.

Freedonia is bankrupt. Mrs. Teasdale appoints Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) as the country’s new president. Sensing a weakness in the new leader, the bordering nation of Sylvania sends in two spies, Pinky (Harpo Marx) and Chicolini (Chico Marx) to set the stage for a revolution. 

The Sylvania ambassador comes to see President Firefly (Groucho). The two-minute clip below, captures that encounter:

The Democratic and Republican selection process that will nominate two candidates to run for the White House in November, began in Iowa.

The prevailing data says that two winners, Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz, emerged. A deeper examination suggests the Iowa winners were actually Sanders and Rubio.  First place does not always a winner make. Both candidates exceeded expectations.

In Iowa, evangelical Christians boosted Texas Senator Ted Cruz into a four percentage-point victory over Donald Trump.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio ran third in Iowa. He was, however, closer to the leaders than polls had projected. Rubio looks to New Hampshire to vault ahead of both Cruz and Trump.

If Rubio does emerge as the establishment’s candidate, what might we expect from a President Rubio?

Sina Toossi, who monitors the efforts of militarists to influence U.S. foreign policy, wrote on the LobeLog Foreign Policy site that:

“Rubio has established himself as the most adept of the Republican candidates at regurgitating the militaristic talking points of the party’s neoconservative wing. His competency in this regard has earned him the favor of influential hawkish donors like Sheldon Adelson, as well as an array of neoconservative political operatives.

“Rubio is in fact a dark horse candidate who, more explicitly than any of his competitors, would usher back into power the Bush-Cheney school of foreign policy.”

After the Democratic Iowa caucus which she only barely won, the former Secretary of State may have to follow her husband’s 1992 spin playbook. In that year, Bill Clinton was second in the New Hampshire primary after a dismal fourth place Iowa finish with only 2% of the vote.

Running second in New Hampshire to Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas, then- Governor Clinton proclaimed himself “the comeback kid”, a designation the media liked, and used. 

In Iowa’s 2016 caucus, Hillary Clinton barely edged ahead of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, whose second place was generated largely by his support on college campuses.

This week will be filled with media and polling predictions for New Hampshire, but 16 Iowa must still be examined.  Trump’s second-place Iowa finish prompted this observation from William Rivers Pitt, posted on the website TruthOut:

“There are enough story lines from last night to fill a Robert Caro biography series, but you can bet an Iowa cornfield the ‘news’ media’s favorite hot take will be the abrupt humbling of Donald Trump. I confess to being profoundly unsurprised by his defeat at the hands of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

“The word out of Iowa is that Trump representatives failed to show up at a number of caucus sites, which is the equivalent of trying to drive down the street without a steering wheel. Trump is not in it to win it. This is just another reality TV show for him. Self-promotion, after all, is his stock in trade.

“Trump’s campaign, to me, has always seemed like a grease fire in a deli kitchen: A flash, a sizzle and then nothing but smoke. Last night proved that out. He enjoys a solid lead in New Hampshire right now, but that may well change after a week of media speculation about his viability as a candidate. .  .  . [Trump] may have slashed his own campaign tires simply by failing to do his Iowa homework. You send your people to the caucuses to speak for you, Donny. That’s how it works.”

In hindsight, Trump’s slippage should have been anticipated. Iowa is a ground game, as Pitt notes.

A friend of mine told me about her experience as an Obama Iowa precinct leader in 2008: 

“We walked the precinct, got the names and numbers of supporters, then made them promise to show up well before the meeting site doors were slammed shut. We were calling late-comers 10 minutes before 7. We won every delegate except one in that precinct.”

Aviva Shen and Kira Lerner examined Ted Cruz’ previous conduct and found specifics that will disturb progressive-minded voters. Here is one of them:

“Cruz is staunchly anti-abortion and has worked in Texas to make it harder for women to receive abortions. As solicitor general of the state, he defended a federal law that bans partial birth abortion. He has helped lead the Senate crusade to defund Planned Parenthood and he has also said that one of the first things he will do in office is launch a federal investigation into the women’s health organization.”

In the Democratic race, it is especially disconcerting to find this unsettling report regarding Clinton, in a December, 2015 posting, by The Intercept’s Leo Fang:

“Consultants affiliated with a small Washington, D.C. firm called Beacon Global Strategies hold the unique privilege of providing high-profile foreign policy guidance to Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz, among others.

“The bipartisan firm was founded in 2013 by former senior officials from the State Department, Department of Defense, and Central Intelligence Agency, and quickly had more than a dozen clients, primarily defense contractors, according to Defense News.

After Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, the next voting challenges await in South Carolina (separate party events on February 20 and 27), and in Nevada (February 20 and February 23).

The rush toward judgment will increase on Super Tuesday, March 1, when a primary or a caucus will be held in 15 states.

The attention just lavished on Iowa February 1, is relatively new. Iowa as a political phenomenon did not burst into the nation’s consciousness until 1975 when a former Georgia governor arrived in the state with a wide smile and a friendly greeting, “Hi, my name is Jimmy Carter”. 

The Atlantic Magazine examines the Carter story:

Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter waves to a crowd gather in Atlanta on Thursday, Dec. 12, 1974 where he announced officially that is a Democratic candidate for the presidency. Carter promised to “restore integrity, confidence and businesslike management to the federal government.” He said in Washington earlier that he plans to run in several state primaries. (AP Photo/BJ)

“How did the Iowa caucus . .  become such a major political touchstone? With a mere 52 delegates, Iowa has nevertheless become a force in presidential campaigns over the last four decades.

“The caucus, which started in the 1840s, had traditionally fallen in the middle of campaign season. But in 1972, state reforms modernized the process and moved the date from May 20 to January 24, making it the first contest in the election. That’s when a campaign worker [actually, his campaign manager] named Gary Hart convinced Democrat George McGovern to take the state seriously.

“But where McGovern took Iowa seriously, it was Jimmy Carter who revolutionized the role that the Hawkeye State would play in presidential politics. Carter turned the Iowa caucus into a major event in 1976 and thereby demonstrated how an upstart campaign could turn a victory in this small state into a stepping-stone for gaining national prominence.

.  .  .  “Richard Reeves, the editor of New York magazine, told the New York Times that the reporters all needed something to write about and, in January, ‘it’s Carter.’

“Almost 150 reporters converged on each voting precinct, and the three TV networks had reporters stationed in Iowa to cover the events, all despite the low delegate count.

“On January 19, Carter defeated Birch Bayh by a two-to-one margin. Morris Udall, Scoop Jackson, Fred Harris, and Sargent Shriver didn’t come anywhere close. Though the largest number of votes were uncommitted, Carter came in second. . .

“Understanding that even the victory needed to be carefully choreographed, Carter flew to New York the night of the caucus so that he could stop by the networks the following day. The next morning, he appeared on NBC, CBS, and ABC to discuss his victory in person.

“The media acted exactly as he had expected, giving him airtime and treating him as a major candidate. The rest was history. Carter went on to win in New Hampshire and eventually took the nomination.”

Walter Mondale, Carter’s Vice President, summed up the Carter-Mondale four years in the White House, in words now etched at the Carter Presidential Library: “We told the truth, we obeyed the law, we kept the peace.”  

On November 8, the nation’s voters will choose a leader who could embody the Carter-Mondale mantra, or voters could select a leader eager to declaim, in the spirit of Rufus T. Firefly, “This means war!”

In the end, it won’t be the media, the politicians, nor the financial pooh-bahs who will choose. It will be the voters, starting in Iowa, who will make the final decision.

The picture of Carter is from the Associated Press.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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7 Responses to 2016 U.S. Politics Envisioned by Groucho Marx

  1. Philip Lee says:

    Spot on as usual, Jim! When will your compatriots learn? I took my swing at Trump yesterday: https://quintessentialruminations.wordpress.com/2016/02/02/calling-trumps-bluff-in-the-poker-game-of-us-politics/

  2. Jack Graham says:

    Abraham Lincoln commented that you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. That’s correct. What Lincoln did not say is that, even though you can’t fool all of the people all of the time, you can gain control over the supply of money and credit, and with it the major news media, which can fool enough of the people enough of the time to swing about 10% from one side to the other in just about any election, which is plenty enough enough to run the government and the country. And that’s how the United States are run today. The major media are held, not to make a profit, but to shape public opinion and swing elections, and thereby to run the government. Those media are controlled by a network of high finance and global business. For a long time those private interests have been picking and have owned our candidates for President, both Republican and Democrat, every four years, telling us how wonderful democracy is. We need monetary reform, which will assure that our supply of money and credit is run by public authority regulated and transparent. It was a point made by Andrew Jackson in his veto of the bank bill, and William Jennings Bryan in his “cross of gold” speech. The election this year is about whether a faction on Wall Street can still get by with using the major media from CNN to FOX to make the election meaningless. It will be an interesting to watch. — John Remington Graham of the Minnesota Bar (#3664X).

  3. Helen Marshall says:

    Clinton apparently won by coin tosses in at least seven caucus groups that were tied, and she won SIX of the seven coin tosses. There is something wrong with this picture. Who really won in Iowa?

  4. Patricia says:

    Spot on!

  5. oldkahuna says:

    “Duck Soup” IS an excellent caricature of our voting and governing process.
    However, there are other alternatives to the conclusion of the story. The media are the real “swing vote” in this election. They have lavished attention on Trump and Clinton. But are they the “winners”? I doubt it.

    Helen, technically, it was a tie. In terms of momentum, it was a Sanders, Cruz, and Rubio day/night. Wait and see IF we get the actual voting tallies. As of right now, the National Democratic Party is blocking those statistics. We’ll see.

    Richard Wolfe suggests that all our candidates are capitalists, rearranging minor parts of the system. What if this earth shaking is an early sign of a shift to another economic system? No, it is not a shift to a Party-run government. It is a more profound shift. Bernie has grasped a part of this shift. We’ll see if he gathers the rest of it. As yesterday’s pseudo-New York Times would say, “We are reconsidering our inflated campaign coverage. ‘If it bleeds, it leads’ will no longer be our operating philosophy. Our new banner will read, ‘ALL THE NEWS THAT IS AND IS NOT FIT TO PRINT.'”

  6. Jim Patterson says:

    Very good, Jim. ……from JP at P/P

  7. Fred says:

    This coin toss business was nonsense. It was a tie.
    Sanders is the only candidate who is not a warhawk. All the republicans are and Hillarry is for sure. Remember, Sanders did not vote for the Iraq war. Hillary did. The war has been the worst blunder in US history. I hope Sanders gets the nomination and wins the elections. All those who prefer diplomacy over war need to support him.

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