A campaigner’s guide to food and dance
The way to a voter's heart is through the candidate's stomach. "You know," Hillary Clinton said a few days ago in an ABC News interview, "I eat hot peppers because years ago, I was told that hot peppers would keep me healthy. Oh, jalapeno, banana peppers, any kind of hot peppers. I eat them raw, I eat them cooked." Sen. Clinton needs the Hispanic vote, so she signals that she passes their food test.
All constituencies have their own test foods. These might be spicy, slimy or symbolic. They might even taste good, but what are the odds? No matter. Candidates gotta eat 'em because that shows you care enough to eat the very worst. And candidates can never act like they are eating them for the first time. "Chicken embryos? Oh, sure! Growing up in Oshkosh, we ate them every day in nursery school with our grahamies and milk."
Food tests are even harder during this particular presidential campaign, which is so hectic that the candidates do not even know where they are, much less what's on the menu. So here is a guide to test foods. Presidential hopefuls, watch for these foods and be ready:
» Anything Filipino except foods ending with "adobo," but especially balut, which is the California Bar Exam of test foods.
» Gator: You blink, you lose. If the emcee of a fiddle festival has to say to you, "Go ahead. It tastes just like the white meat of chicken," it's too late, Senator. You are now the favorite son of the Carpetbagger Party.
» Anything deep-fried at any state fair. The Nebraska State Fair sells beer-battered Velveeta-coated car batteries.
Raw fish used to be a test food, but no more. Now Aunt Bea serves sushi to Andy and Opie. Sashimi has gotten enough cachet to get off the list. For other mysterious sea creatures, imagine you are lunching with a K Street lobbyist. That way, the bad taste in your mouth will not be from the fish.
If you say, "Yum. What stream did these Rocky Mountain oysters come from?" you can write off every primary from the Cascades to the Mississippi.
» Heart-healthy beef substitutes: Not tofu, real meat but odd -- beefalo, ostrich, emu. The trick is not in the eating, but in the commenting. You have to say it's good, but do not even hint that the flesh of a mixed docile-animal marriage or a feathered creature that took Avian Growth Hormone is better than beef. The B-Bar-Beefalo Ranch is likely to be pretty goldarn near the B-Bar-Beef Ranch. You are looking for super-delegates, not a range war.
» Poi: It's the stuff in the white cup next to the salmon dish that looks like chopped lox.
So much nausea, so little time.
Test dances are even trickier than test foods. With food, once it's up the lips and over the gums, no one can see what is actually happening. If a politician dances, everyone sees everything. Sometimes you have to risk it. Sometimes you better not. Here's a dance guide.
Dances to be done:
» Chicken: This goofy dance pops up everywhere -- rallies, festivals. Dick Cheney regularly flaps arms at his undisclosed location. So you can't avoid it, but be warned. Only the experts, let's call them cocknoscenti, can do the chicken dance without looking like they are pandering to the crowd. Two lessons here: Don't wear Armani and even the chicken dance needs some cool.
» Bon: Rather than giving tips, let's talk about the master, Mayor Mufi Hannemann. He is the true obonmeister despite the fact that he is two feet taller than anyone else in the hongji parking lot. Wait, it's because he is two feet taller. And with that totally cool XXXXL kimono. An old Henny Youngman joke goes, "My brother-in-law is so stupid, he opened a tall man's shop in Tokyo." Maybe not so stupid.
Dances you should avoid:
» Hula: Dancing hula will make you look like a culturally insensitive schmuck. You want to know why? Argue about it? Fine, but after the campaign, which will end pretty quickly if you waste time feeling left out. Keep focused: change, experience and the plight of the middle class.
» Latin: Here is a campaigning politician's fantasy. It's the end of a four-day, one-pair-of-underpants forced march entirely to locations related to farm machinery. Suddenly you are at a fancy fundraiser with elegant food and a great band. A starry-eyed volunteer asks you to salsa or maybe to tango. The two of you ... man, wouldn't we all want to see that? But it's not going to happen. Those dances are too hot, hot, hot. You don't want to shed your family values right there in front of NPR and CNN. Wait until you are in the confines of the Oval Office.
And ain't no time soon that you'll see a candidate slow-dancing at a gay fundraiser.
Neal Milner is a political science professor at the University of Hawaii-Manoa.