Today’s assignment: Match candidates from the Republican and Democratic primaries with their doppelgangers from literature, film, fairy tale or myth.
Avoid the most obvious and superficial associations, such as labeling Donald Trump as the king from “The Emperor’s New Clothes” or the myth of King Midas. The naked emperor felt some shame for his pride; Trump is free from that burden. Midas didn’t declare biweekly bankruptcy as if he believed that Atlantic City was made out of cardboard.
My friend Meryl Schwartz Baer suggested Lex Luthor as Trump’s match. Now that’s intriguing.
As for the women in the race, it’s too easy to brand either Hillary Clinton or Carly Fiorina as the Wicked Witch of the West. You don’t get points for ingenuity by thinking of women in leadership as sneering “You, and your little dog, too!” while applying eyeliner in the morning. We need to look further.
The distance between politicians and the figures from our imaginations seems to be collapsing: Those running for office today seem to be less public servants than cartoon characters.
And not only cartoons — but caricatures.
Dave Barry’s 2015 “Year in Review” pointed out that Ben Carson reacted “angrily to CNN reports suggesting that he never tried to stab anybody or hit his mother with a hammer. Really.”
If Carson couldn’t convincingly play a violence-prone youth who redeemed himself and rose to great heights, then he was diluting his brand. If Carson had never inspired fear as Mr. Hyde, as my friend Kathy El-Assal said, could he be inspirational as Dr. Jekyll?
Caricatures have been a part of the political process for centuries. Emmy-nominated animation director and Disney designer Ed Wexler is one of America’s great political and entertainment caricaturists. Like many great caricaturists, he links political figures to characters we know from other venues.
Wexler’s Obama is Robin Hood, his Eric Cantor is Goliath, his Jeb Bush is dreaming of sugarplum fairies and his Newt Gingrich is a vaudeville performer. Wexler focuses on political figures “because it gives me the chance to use my subjects’ own facial features to shine a light on hypocrisy, greed and insincerity in an artful and (let’s hope) witty way. Plus, it’s good fun to poke fun at people, especially powerful ones.”
Other friends weighed in.
Ed Culver, having declared that “You can, of course, find everybody in Shakespeare,” proposed Chris Christie as Falstaff. Then Jim Carpenter suggested that Ted Cruz and Iago, the nefariously controlling aide in “Othello,” might be a pair.
As for Shakespeare’s women, Clinton was compared so repeatedly to Lady Macbeth that I stopped counting; the same goes for comparisons to Elizabeth Bennet from “Pride and Prejudice.”
But I think of HRC as Scarlett O’Hara from “Gone With The Wind”: she’s the ultimate survivor, organizer and person you can count on in a crisis. Her romantic life might have been messy, but she is shrewd, smart and intuitively a leader.
One surprising comparison to a Jane Austen character delighted me. According to Krisela Karaja, Jeb Bush is Mr. William Collins of “Pride and Prejudice.”
Mr. Collins, you’ll recall, is comically baffled by rejection. Krisela explained: “Admittedly a bad, bumbling option for Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Collins is seemingly her only realistic option should she ever want to marry Republican.” (She doesn’t.)
Mike Huckabee’s match, according to Kate Weckesser English, is Matthew Harrison Brady, a character immortalized in the classic play and film, “Inherit the Wind.” Brady, a fundamentalist politician, argued that evolution should not be taught in schools.
We’ll go with another actual person for Marco Rubio: the King of Bubblegum, Donny Osmond. Rubio was such an Osmond fan as a youth that he “liked to perform Osmond songs at family get-togethers,” and toured their recording studios, according to one source. Theme songs for Marco might be Donny hits such as “A Million to One” and “The Twelfth of Never,” as they reflect Rubio’s chances of election.
We compare politicians to the beloved champions and reviled villains of our youth because of the ripple effect they have in our consciousness. They are the stuff of dinner conversations, dreams, nightmares — and matching quizzes. In them we see the best and worst of ourselves played out on a grander scale.
Remember: Tomorrow is another day.
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut, a feminist scholar who has written eight books, and a columnist for the Hartford Courant.