An inside guide to outsider politics

As Californians prepare to choose among more than 130 candidates, here are some ways to tell if your guy, or porn star, is the outsider he or she claims to be.

Published August 29, 2003 7:11PM (EDT)

Last Sunday, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina was asked by George Stephanopoulos if he was consciously drawing from the Clinton experience in his campaign. Edwards was quick to reject the premise. "I think we have similarities but we have lots of differences," he said. "I'm very much, I think, a Washington outsider."

Most outsiders aren't senators who have co-sponsored and passed a Patients' Bill of Rights.

If you listen to Dick Gephardt, you'll become well acquainted with the fact that his father was a milk truck driver, and that his mother was a secretary. You won't hear much about his almost 30 years in Congress, more than 10 of them spent as one of his party's leaders in the House of Representatives -- service that almost all of his colleagues will tell you was dedicated, accomplished and admirable.

Even George W. Bush -- who only became president by promising to change the tone of the city he would never deign to live in -- is taking pains, as the election approaches, to reaffirm his outsider status. He's doing what millions of other hard-working Americans do whenever they please: finishing up a 35-day vacation at his 1,600-acre ranch purchased with the proceeds from the sale of a bad baseball team that was purchased with the proceeds of sweetheart buyouts of a number of failed businesses. It's good to be unfamiliar with the halls of power.

What's an actual outsider like Howard Dean to do, other than cry himself to sleep on a bed full of money after speaking to thousands of enthusiastic supporters?

In electoral politics, being inside is out, and being outside is in. It seems as if everyone who wants power in Washington, or in any other center of government, must first express his or her dislike for that place. Why, when running for president, for instance, is it immediate grounds for disqualification if you've worked in this city, know how it operates and, god forbid, have achieved something here?

How many mayoral candidates have you heard deliver this pitch: "I hate the city. I've never lived there. The people there are insincere and incompetent. And that's why you should send me to its highest office. Did I mention I really, really hate the place?"

If this sounds familiar, it's because the airwaves have been filled with these sentiments -- not just by the presidential candidates, but with an Austrian accent as well. Yes, the cult of outsiderdom has been injected like an anabolic steroid into California's gubernatorial campaign. What has yet to be determined is whether, in this case, it is performance enhancing. But this much is clear: Arnold Schwarzenegger wants us to believe that he loves California but detests its capital. After all, he's just regular volks, like you and me.

In politics, if you walk like an outsider and talk like an outsider, chances are the establishment told you to do so. How else could you explain Schwarzenegger's campaign? His political makeover is worthy of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" -- or should we say, "outsider lie for the conservative guy."

So, as a public service of sorts, as Californians prepare to choose among more than 130 highly qualified candidates and Arianna Huffington, here are some ways to tell if your guy, or porn star, is the outsider he or she claims to be.

You're not an outsider if your party's apparatus actively works to clear the field for you. (Can you imagine DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe saying to Joe Lieberman: "Joe, the presidential field is too crowded. You had your shot at Bush and lost. Now for the good of the party, stop stealing Dennis Kucinich's oxygen"?)

When you ask Warren Buffett to be your economic advisor, and he says yes, that's a hint you might not be an outsider.

If you use eloquent poll-tested language like, "I will be a governor for the people for a change because, because I want to represent the people because the only thing that counts for me is the people," you doth protest too much that you've never seen the inside.

If you said this on Mark McKinnon's advice -- the same media consultant hired to make George W. Bush look like an outsider -- you, my friend, are not an outsider.

When Karl Rove instructs the president to say that you'd make "a pretty good governor," you're about as much of an outsider as "Oui" magazine is family fare.

If you're a Republican, you're not an outsider; if you're married to a Kennedy, you're most definitely not an outsider.

When your pals at Fox News work to enhance your candidacy by reportedly banning puns based on the movies you made, there's only one explanation: It's hasta la vista, insider.

What does all this mean, apart from the fact that Arnold works out at a gym stocked full of well-tested political machines? Perhaps it means that, whether you're running for governor or president, enough with the true lies and the false truths.

Tell it like it is, tell us who you are and, by all means, what you stand for. And just maybe our crazy but wonderful democracy might work a tiny bit better if those on the inside could be proud of what they've done, and those truly on the outside took some time and care to learn a little about the inside before trashing it.

By Eric Schnure

Eric Schnure and Jeff Nussbaum are freelance writers who occasionally dabble in comedy.

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By Jeff Nussbaum

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George W. Bush Howard Dean