On Tuesday, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) delivered the GOP response to President Obama’s State of the Union address. No one seems to remember what he said because the conservative politician made the unthinkable gaffe of sneaking a drink of water right in the middle of his speech. The move went viral, “generating 9,200 tweets per minute after the sip.” It is now permanently part of his political career.
Politics has been a visual medium ever since Kennedy debated Nixon on TV. Nixon sweat his way through the debate and that is all people saw or “heard.” The rest is history.
Being a human with flaws is not allowed in politics, especially today with the 24/7 news cycle and new mediums like Facebook and Twitter. Have a case of dry mouth or a slip of the tongue and the image or sound bite will go viral. There’ll be GIFs, hashtags, and jokes galore and the politician will have to endure the longest 24-hour period of his or her political life.
It got me to wondering whether these 6 presidents could have survived today’s hypersensitive, super inquisitive social media news environment.
1. George Washington
Washington suffered dental health problems his entire adult life.
“He spent his life in frequent pain and employed a variety of tooth cleaners, dental medicines, and dentures,” according to MountVernon.org. He would have needed dental surgery to get the pearly whites required of today’s politician. And that would have been captured in before and after pictures forever.
He would have been a champion for the physically challenged and disabled but if you think Chris Christie’s health will be an issue, then imagine a man with polio in a wheelchair. FDR was so self-conscious of his paralytic illness that he went through great strides to ensure that it was kept hidden from the public.
That wouldn’t have worked today. Not with sophisticated long range telephoto technology, prying eyes everywhere, smartphones, and hired help looking for 15 seconds of fame.
Ditto with President Kennedy. He suffered from Addison’s disease and was a physical wreck. He was a scrawny, puny sick child and it worsened in his adult years. Kennedy was in constant pain and was on a slew of medication. We like to see those pictures of the Kennedy boys playing football at Hyannis Port, but you’ll never see Jack being touched or tackled.
There are so many reasons Kennedy would not have gotten out of the starting gate today. Everything from his father’s bootlegging past to his womanizing and fraternizing with the Rat Pack and possibly known gangsters would have made him persona non grata. Is there any doubt that party boy JFK would be tweeting a picture of his junk?
4. Bill Clinton
That brings us to Bubba. The last president to preside over a robust economy owes it all to the technological revolution brought on by the internet. He was fortunate enough to be the president the last time we had a revolutionary industry with exponential growth that drove the economy of the world.
He was fortunate to be there at the birth of the revolution for if he was there when social media took over than he too would have been caught up in a viral storm. A cigar and a semen-stained blue dress, plus his famous “I did not have sex with that woman” would have been turned into a memorable internet mash-up.
5. Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson is rumored to have fathered six children with his slave Sally Hemings. Do you actually believe he could have gotten away with being accused of sleeping with the help and refusing to make a public statement in today’s all prying, ever present press? Ask Governor Schwarzenegger how that worked out for him.
6. Grover Cleveland
Cleveland was our first “baby-daddy–in-chief."
Cleveland had an affair with Maria Crofts Halpin and when she got pregnant and gave birth, assumed responsibility for her child. Research shows that Cleveland may have actually committed date rape and then took painstaking measures to cover up the alleged crime, including branding Halpin as a mentally unstable harlot. He had her child placed in an orphanage and tried to have her committed to a mental asylum. All of this occurred before he embarked on his political career.
If John Edwards’ political career couldn’t survive his indiscretions, there is no way Cleveland could have been elected dog catcher in today’s environment, much less two-time president of the United States. The Republicans tried to make political hay of the affair by creating what by today’s standard would be an internet viral bomb. They taunted and poked fun at Cleveland and the Democrats by chanting, “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?” After Cleveland won the election, the Democrats got the last laugh by responding “Gone to the White House! Ha Ha Ha!”