According to World Net Daily, the Far-Right news source for those who find FOX News and American Spectator too moderate, Ted Nugent is considering a run for the Republican nomination in 2016.
In a news item titled “Ted, White, and Blue: Nugent Eyes the White House,” World Net Daily cites an item that appeared originally in the Washington Post Magazine. More on the Post piece shortly.
There are basically four pieces of information in the item from World Net Daily, each of which is worth at least some brief comment.
First, Nugent is described as a “rock legend,” a “New York Times best-selling author,” and a “gun right’s activist” and a “Board member of the National Rifle Association.” The first two claims are dubious.
Even allowing that “legend” is an overused epithet across the popular culture, in rock music it has become a very commonplace marketing term for late-middle-aged groups or front-men who still tour. Although Nugent continues to have a dedicated group of fans, he is not a member of the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame, has never even won a Grammy Award, and despite the claims about his virtuoso guitar-playing, is not included among Rolling Stones’ “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.” His first six studio albums did reach the top 50 on Billboard’s list for U.S. sales, with 1980’s Scream Dream reaching as high as No. 13 on the list. But none of the subsequent seven studio albums has ranked in the top 50 on the list. More tellingly, perhaps, only the first of Nugent’s seven “live” albums has reached the top 50 in U.S. sales.
Similarly, Nugent’s second book, the autobiography God, Guns, and Rock and Roll, did make the New York Times bestseller list. But his subsequent books have attracted a much narrower readership. They have included a sequel to his first book, Blood Trails II: The Truth about Bowhunting, Kill It and Grill It: A Guide to Preparing and Cooking Wild Game and Fish, and Ted, White, and Blue: The Ted Nugent Manifesto. (I am guessing that Nugent does not intend to link himself in the popular mind to either Karl Marx or the Unabomber, but who else has written a “manifesto” that any percentage of the American public might be able to identify?)
I would like to emphasize that I am not really trying to belittle Ted Nugent’s accomplishments. But what I am suggesting is that those accomplishments are all too easily overblown. Furthermore, fringe candidacies have all too easily become spectacles that the media begins to take seriously, rationalizing their avoidance of open derision as “fairness.” Having been legitimized in this way, these fringe candidacies distort our national politics in ways all out of proportion to their actual viability and credibility. Consider this most recent presidential election in which one of the most motley collections of candidates ever seeking a major party nomination exaggerated their own qualifications for the GOP nomination while simultaneously dismissing President Obama’s qualifications, including the experience of his first four years in office. Paradoxically, they asserted that the failures of Obama’s first term were due to his relative lack of executive experience in government as much as to his Leftist ideology, while arguing that their adherence to a Far-Right ideology would adequately compensate for their own lack of executive experience in government (excepting Mitt Romney’s experience as governor of Massachusetts). The extended argument on the “failures” of Obama’s first term went this way: the GOP members of the House and Senate were not dedicated to obstructing any legislation that Obama could claim as an achievement, but, instead, he had “failed” repeatedly in refusing to “compromise” and embrace legislation that would advance their ideology rather than his own.
Second, Nugent offers the following as a reason why his candidacy is necessary: “Things are just so wrong in the country now. And I know that my answers would make things wonderful, unless you just refuse to produce, and then I’d recommend that you move to Canada. Or Illinois.” It’s hard to imagine a statement that might suggest a more simplistically black-and-white or unabashedly megalomaniacal view of the world: everything is “wrong,” and he can make everything “wonderful.” There are no specifics provided except that if anyone is perceived as obstructing the realization of the “wonderful,” they had better leave the country. This brief statement captures all of the main notes of demagoguery: desperation that results from a betrayal of national promise, a leader willing to address that betrayal with singular resolve, the scapegoating of some segment of the population as the source of the betrayal, and the equivocation of conformity and contentment. Tellingly, this sort of rhetoric has been increasingly evident just under the public, “managed” surface of our presidential campaigns, and, more tellingly, it has led to fewer and fewer public statements from the campaigns distancing the candidates from such rhetoric.
Third, Nugent himself has offered the following as a self-introduction to the electorate: “’Hi, I’m Ted Nugent. I have nine children from seven women, and I’m running for president.’” Well, I suppose that this strategy beats Herman Cain’s, which seemed to be simply to count on none of his former or current mistresses making themselves publicly known and available. And there seems to be a progression here among religiously righteous Far-Right politicians—from Ronald Reagan who was, after all, the first divorced president, to the succession of House speakers who had to remove themselves from the speakership because they themselves were guilty of extramarital affairs that would make their leading the impeachment of Bill Clinton seem blatantly hypocritical, to Mark Sanford’s basically running for re-election to his old House seat on the argument that an extramarital affair is not hypocritical for a Far-Right politician, even if it occurs while he is in office and creates a spectacle, as long as he confesses his sin and professes genuinely to love—and a willingness to marry–the woman with whom he has committed adultery.
Lastly, the WND news item notes Nugent’s infamous declaration that if President Obama were re-elected, he would either be “dead or in jail.” The threat that he would personally try to do harm to the president was blatant enough that the Secret Service was compelled to investigate it. Of course, to no one’s surprise, Nugent ended up neither dead nor in jail. But, to many people’s great surprise, he did end up at the first state-of-the-union address of President Obama’s second term, as the guest of Texas GOP congressman Steve Stockman. I suppose that Nugent should be cut some slack because he is a “celebrity” with a reputation for popping off. He has, after all, fully earned the nickname “the Motor-City Madman.” His being at the state-of-the-union address might be seen by some as not being much different than Dennis Rodman’s going to North Korea on some sort of self-styled diplomatic mission. But it is very different. Imagine the Right-wing media’s response if a liberal member of Congress had brought Louis Farrakhan or the Rev. Jeremiah Wright to George W. Bush’s final state-of-the-union address. And, as far as I know neither Wright nor Farrakhan had never publicly threatened to kill President Bush.
All of the points that I have been trying to make in this post are actually more pointedly illustrated by the article in the Washington Post Magazine. I will quote several relatively brief passages to demonstrate what I mean.
First, Steve Hendrix, the author of the article, characterizes Nugent’s persona and his appeal as the equivalent of a political freak show, complete with gawkers:
“Patti and Les Baillio of Houston were typical of the crowd, which was a Nugentspecific blend of hard-rock nostalgia, blood-sport celebration and right-wing fermentation. Les is a bearded mechanical engineer and deer hunter who saw Nugent in concert as a student, still regularly watches Nugent’s hunting show on the Outdoor Channel and sang Nugent’s screaming anthem to independence, ‘Tooth, Fang and Claw,’ to Patti on their wedding day. Les was sporting a cap from Nugent’s 2010 tour, ‘Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead.’
“Patti came for the politics. The couple and their 13-year-old daughter stayed in the auditorium to hear Nugent’s speech, the final address of a roster that included Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Oliver North and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. The family came to its feet more than once as Nugent derided the ‘liars in the White House,’ the ‘bad and ugly’ Hillary Clinton, the ‘gun-running’ attorney general. Nugent ridiculed political opponents as ‘dirty sub-human punks,’ ‘soulless,’ ‘mongrels’ and ‘struggling for personal hygiene.’ He blamed the president for the spike in military suicides. (‘They are shattered and heartbroken because they believe their own commander in chief is not on the same team.’)
“This was a Ted Talk meant less to inform than to enrage. At the end, he would tear up as he talked about the injured soldiers he routinely visits and again when he presented a new house to the family of a wounded veteran on behalf of a nonprofit group. But the politics that came before were the rarest of red meat, and the crowd wolfed it down without chewing.”
But, not much later, after detailing the considerable media and political attention that Nugent has attracted, Hendrix states:
“As establishment Republicans try to tune the party to a political pitch less divisive and combative, Nugent doubles down on both. He unleashes rhetorical torrents the way he whales on a Gibson Byrdland, soaring virtuoso riffs of invective that are cruel, glib, informed and blisteringly fast.
“It has some of the party’s most conservative fringes flocking to him, not as fans but as followers. And it has political observers wondering what a Ted Nugent with a following might do next.”
All of this comes ahead of Hendrix’s accounts of a series of visits with Nugent—at his home, at hotels, at concert venues, and at other public events.
Hendrix is a terrific writer, and he seems to want to provide enough details for his readers to draw their own conclusions. But what I am afraid that most readers will take away from the piece is not that Nugent is being taken seriously even though he does not deserve to be taken seriously. But, instead, that Nugent seems determined to give people reasons not to take him seriously, but they are nonetheless taking him very seriously.
I think that what is missing from the article is a much-needed sense of proportion.
If Nugent were considering being a candidate for a congressional seat in rural Texas, in which most of the electorate might have Far-Right political views, then the possibility of his candidacy would certainly deserve attention by that local media. But the people to whom Ted Nugent will appeal on the national level will never be more than a very small, if very boisterous and very visible minority. If 30 million Americans, about as many people as lived in the U.S. during the Civil War and in other contexts still a very sizable number, were to become diehard supporters of Ted Nugent, they would still represent somewhat less than 10% of the current population. And despite all of his enduring popularity, I am assuming that, over the last three decades, Ted Nugent has not sold 30 million record albums or CDs, and I doubt that 30 million people in total have attended the more than 6,400 live shows that Hendrix indicates that he has performed. (For those doing the math, he would need to have averaged somewhat less than 5,000 people per show.)
So, the issue is not whether Ted Nugent might be a viable candidate for the presidency but, instead, what our giving any serious attention to such a candidacy suggests about our current political environment and the current media coverage of our politics.