Home » Vermin Supreme: An Argument for Satirical Campaigning a paper by Dani Gehm, senior student of Rhetoric & Media Studies at Willamette University in Oregon.

Vermin Supreme: An Argument for Satirical Campaigning a paper by Dani Gehm, senior student of Rhetoric & Media Studies at Willamette University in Oregon.

Vermin Supreme: An Argument for Satirical Campaigning

 a paper by Dani Gehm, senior student of Rhetoric & Media Studies at Willamette University in Oregon. 

 

 

At first glance, Vermin Supreme appears to be nothing more than a disgruntled activist

attempting to throw off the balance of serious presidential candidates with obnoxious behavior.

His image certainly points towards this direction—it seems impossible to suggest that a man

wearing a large rubber boot on his head, skin-tight leopard pants, and “hip hop bling” could be

serious about anything, let alone politics. However, Vermin Supreme has achieved fame for his

seemingly whimsical attempts to run for office and his ability to combine political satire with

activism and protest. As of May 2012, the keyword “Vermin Supreme” received over 550 hits on

YouTube, with the most popular video (“Vermin Supreme: When I’m President Everyone Gets A

Free Pony”) totaling over 1.3 million views, over 6,000 comments, and over 18,000 “likes” (and

a mere 175 “dislikes”) in a mere four months. The ability for Supreme to garner this much

attention for his take on presidential campaigning in such a short amount of time signals that

something about him resonates with the American public.

Although satirical humor and parodic campaigning has been used to criticize society

throughout history (Rosenberg, “Biography”), Supreme’s style of satirical campaigning becomes

an important text to study for several reasons. First, because of the increasing popularity and

prevalence of political satire in pop culture. From successful television personalities and comedy

programs like Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report and John Stewart of The Daily Show, we

can see that a new wave of “infotainment” has become a way for audience to entertain

themselves, and as a source of political information (Moy, Xenos & Hess, 2005; Hmielowski,

Holbert & Lee, 2011). Particularly in younger demographics (Hmielowski, Hobert & Lee, 2011),

infotainment has become increasingly popular as either a primary or supplementary news

source or political commentary, even with the prevalence of satire. Akin to these politically

driven infotainment  shows, Vermin Supreme has achieved fame and popularity for his

humorous take on politics. Second, unlike The Colbert Report or The Daily Show, Vermin

Supreme has built a new type of political satire, based solely on his own statements, actions,

and press releases. Supreme interacts with politics in a way that significantly differs from the

norm. In general, well-known satirists like John Stewart and Stephen Colbert position

themselves outside of the political process, acting as news reporters, anchormen, or political

commentators. However, Supreme, who is no less satirically driven, actually positions himself

exclusively within the political process to drive his commentary. Third, Supreme’s image

represents a unique example of image events: “staged acts of protest designed for media

dissemination” (Delicath & Deluca, 2003, pg. 215). As stated in several of his online press

releases (“Vermin’s Speach [sic]”, “Vermin’s Promise”)  and videos (“King of the Rats: On The

Trail with Vermin Supreme”, “Interview With Vermin Supreme”), Supreme’s acts and statements

are a direct reflection of his nonverbal commentary. For example, Vermin states, in regard to an

early campaign platform to give clown noses to members of Congress, “the symbols that I work

in sometimes are pretty obvious. It pretty much says right there, ‘this is what I think of you, here

you go'” (“King of the Rats: On The Trail with Vermin Supreme”). Although it may be obvious

that these actions represent “acts of social protest… intended to shape public opinion” (Delicath

& Deluca, 2003, pg. 330), these images, videos, and events do not truly attempt to convince his

audience to vote for him in political elections. Unlike the image events of Greenpeace or Earth

First! as described by Delicath & Deluca (2003), Supreme’s images call upon the audiences’

ability to differentiate between Supreme’s superficial face-value argument (‘Vote for Vermin Now

& Often,’ via “Vermin Supreme 2012”) and a deeper argument that scrutinizes traditional

campaign rhetoric.

This essay attempts to argue that Vermin Supreme is able to access a deeper meaning

about contemporary political happenings. By application of absurdity and mockery, Vermin

Supreme utilizes satirical rhetoric in his campaign speeches and protests in order to draw

attention to, question, and criticize traditional campaign rhetoric. I first present a history of

Vermin Supreme as an activist, humorist, and politician; second, I provide a brief background of

satire as a function of political commentary; third, I draw a theoretical rhetorical framework

around the satirical commentary of Vermin Supreme and use it to analyze the meaning behind

his campaigns. Lastly, I reflect on the rhetorical discussions surrounding Supreme’s satire,

particularly relating to how audiences and rhetoricians can interpret his attempt to satirize

political culture.

In this paper, I analyze Supreme’s speeches at the “Lesser Known Democratic

Candidates Presidential Forum” in 2012, “Interview With Vermin Supreme” YouTube interview

from 2012, the short film “King of the Rats: On the Trail with Vermin Supreme” from 2008, and

content from Vermin’s campaign website, which has remained largely unchanged since his

decision to participate in presidential primaries in 2000.

My decision to analyze this content was made after a careful examination of Supreme’s

campaign materials since his decision to run in the presidential primaries. Much of his website

from the start of his campaigning has remained unchanged—many of the original written

speeches, recorded speeches and interviews on YouTube, and fake news clips that make up

the majority of his campaign content still exist. In deciding what materials to analyze, I picked

“Interview With Vermin Supreme” for the completeness with which it describes Vermin’s current

campaign promises and platforms, many of which are a continuation from previous election

cycle campaigns. The “Lesser Known Democratic Candidates Presidential Forum” video was

picked to display Vermin’s typical interactions with other real candidates and with the media.

“King of the Rats: On the Trail with Vermin Supreme” was chosen because of the multi-faceted

look on Supreme’s campaign, including his platform, grassroots interactions, interactions with

the media, as well as its focus on Vermin Supreme as a personality. I also draw in excerpts of

speeches and documents from Supreme’s website in order to provide analysis on some of his

older campaign resources.

 

 

Vermin Supreme, “King of the Rats”: Spectacle and image events 

Vermin Supreme began his long

career of infiltrating political

primaries and elections in

1992 in Boston, Massachusetts

(“King of the Rats”). He started

his satirical campaigning

“career” by running for mayor of

several cities in the United

States, including Baltimore,

Detroit, and the small military

town of Mercury, Nevada. In the early 2000s, Supreme began to focus on bigger goals, and

decided to campaign for the 2004 Presidential primary. The political satirist began to make

waves during many visits to crowds of “grassroots” supporters of Democratic and Republican

nominees alike. Oversized toothbrush in hand, and flagpole eagle attached to his chest (see

Figure 1), Supreme slowly garnered attention from supporters for popular candidates during

events, and gradually led them away from the partisan mob mentality that grassroots

campaigning often creates. The uniform screaming of popular candidates’ names was replaced

by confused stares at the man with the boot on his head in many Boston grassroots campaigns

(as seen in “King of the Rats”). This paradoxical technique of using ridiculous methods to lead

civilians from this mob mentality is what Vermin Supreme does—and has been doing—for over

two decades. He has essentially perfected it to an art form. Everything that he does—from his

campaign “promises” and speeches to his interactions with other candidates and the media—is

an attempt to draw attention to what he believes to be wrong with the American electoral

system.

Figure 1: Screen capture from “Oval Office Underdogs: Vermin Supreme” (cited 

under Krauthammer, Charles) 

Among one of the most startling things when the persona Vermin Supreme is mentioned

is the name—is it his real name? What does it mean? Why would anyone choose that for a

name? When asked, Vermin Supreme will tell you—truthfully—that “Vermin Love Supreme” is

his legal name. The legal change occurred in the 1990s (Connors), but has been used since the

1980s. One of the first documented explanations of “Vermin Supreme” comes from Vermin’s

campaign website in March of 2000. Displayed in the format of a news clipping quoting a

speech, adorned with an image of a fist clenching dollars and flags, the following explanation

was given:

“…let  me say  that  I  Vermin Supreme is (or is it am) first and foremost a

politician.. Let me also point out that all politicians are, in fact, vermin.. I am the

Vermin Supremetherefore I am without question the most qualified candidate

in this race, at this time. […] Of course, as a politician I shall lie to you, because I

am a politician, and have no reason not to” (“Vermin’s Speech [sic]”).

 

Because the name Vermin Supreme, both as a name and as a persona, has come to

represent the most extreme representation of the politician, it can be thought of as a slogan to

or a caricature of Vermin’s satirical campaign. Similar to Obama’s “Yes We Can!” or McCain’s

“Maverick,” I believe that Vermin Supreme has become a slogan used to describe the candidate

as a person, the candidate’s policies, and an overall picture of the campaign.

When asked about his name, the topic of validity often comes up. Is Vermin Supreme his   

birth name? If not, what is (or was) his real name before his performance as Vermin Supreme

began? He simply refuses to answer questions about his “former life.” Not even on the internet

can the true identity of the man known as Vermin Supreme be found. His refusal to answer such

questions shows that he is very much in character during all times of his public life.

Furthermore, the attempt to keep his private life confidential can be compared to the responses

of serious politicians to accusations or questions about scandals in their personal lives.

Supreme’s appearance is the first indication that his work as a politician is anything like

the suit-wearing, neatly groomed men and women that typically occupy the political sphere.

Sporting no less than five ties, a large rubber boot on his head, and a pair of leopard-print

shorts, Supreme can immediately grab the attention of nearly anyone he encounters. His ability-

-and intention–to attract attention based on his image is an example of what Aaron Hess calls

political spectacle. Political spectacle represents an “othering” of someone, or the act of pointing

at a group or individual because of the way that they are presented, and “operates as visual

publicity within mediated environments and has an effect on the production of public opinion”

(Hess, 107). Supreme’s dress and image becomes “a type of argument within the public screen”

(107), as he aims to make a statement about a certain group of people (politicians). By

participating in the political sphere while obviously “othering” himself stylistically, Supreme

attempts to make a critical statement about what participation in politics is really about. I believe

that, by “othering” himself, he makes a statement that participation in politics boils down to

image and the ability to appeal to a broad spectrum of individuals, instead of important values

like honesty or integrity.

 

Satire as cultural commentary

In my analysis of Vermin Supreme, I am entering and adding to several important

conversations surrounding satire as a function of cultural/political commentary. I am entering a

discussion of satire as cultural commentary, as Supreme’s rhetoric relies on his audience’s

ability to differentiate between viewing him as simply a form of entertainment and as an

individual who uses humor and satire as a means to provide a critical commentary on

campaigning, elections, and politicians in general. I am adding to this discussion by displaying

how Supreme’s rhetoric differs from the political commentary of popular TV satirists, paying

particular attention to the emphasis Supreme puts on joining the political process he critiques,

instead of acting as an outside party looking in.

In order to accurately analyze Supreme’s commentary on political campaigning, the

concept of satire must be first defined and understood. Satire is defined by Abrams & Harpham

in A Glossary of Literary Terms, 8th Edition as “diminishing or derogating a subject by making it

ridiculous and evoking toward it attitudes of amusement, contempt, scorn, or indignation.” When

used in the context of political satire, the word is used to signify comedic or ironic behavior (for

Supreme, campaigning) that aims to shed light on real political behaviors in order to reveal vices

or follies.

Satire has been used to criticize society since Ancient Greek Aristophanes pioneered

the genre of comedic drama (Rosenberg, 155), but has created a polarizing debate amongst

scholars as to the effects satire has on audiences and society. Many scholars have argued

about the effects of satire, namely whether the use of satire to study society has an overall

positive or negative effect. Ian Reilly summarizes the two sides of this debate in stating that

“most scholars would agree that satire is either a form of criticism that subscribes to the highest

moral order, or that it is a base form of invective that cultivates destructive, even nihilistic,

tendencies: in short, a constructive presence and/or a destructive force” (2011, 505-506). In this

essay, I argue that political satire in this form–the satirical campaign–is used to inform, educate,

and incite action in American citizens.

Also integral to understanding Vermin Supreme is the distinction between satire and

parody, as the two share similarities but serve uniquely distinct functions as they provide a

commentary on public culture. Satire differs from the concept of parody in several ways. First,

because a parody is modeled off of a specific subject or text, instead of a broad concept or idea.

Second, as Margaret Rose defines it, parody is “the comic refunctioning of preformed linguistic

or artistic material,” (1993, pg. 52). That is, parody aims to alter or imitate a subject in order to

achieve comedic ends. Although parody may (and often does) comment on society or culture,

the end result is humor. In satire, comedy or humor is simply the means to an end. In the case

of Supreme’s ‘satirization’ of political campaigning, we can see that he uses humor and

absurdity as a means of revealing the faults of politicians and campaigning.

The use of both political satire and parody to reveal corruptions in politics is not unusual,

especially in recent years. In both the 2008 and the upcoming 2012 elections, comedian and

television personality Stephen Colbert campaigned for presidency. His most recent campaign,

which was suspended in January 2012, focused on the satirization of the “current political

money system” (Grier). Colbert’s creation of the “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow”

Super PAC (better known as the “Stephen Colbert Super PAC”) aimed “to make a serious point

about the massive growth of new Super PAC funding organizations” (Zengerle). By proving that

his Super PAC—technically unrelated to his campaign for presidency, although clearly

influenced by it—could gain over $1 million in donations (Zengerle), Colbert strived to show the

corruption surrounding campaign finances.

Colbert’s more popular political satire can be compared to Supreme’s presidential

campaigning. Like Colbert, Vermin Supreme attempts to disrupt the perceived reality of

campaigns and politicians as being fair or honest (“King of the Rats”). However, unlike Colbert,

Supreme’s campaign directly interacts with the media, serious candidates, and the public. By

actively participating in the political processes that he are attempting to satirize, Supreme sets

himself up to be compared with those political processes. It becomes easier for the public to see

the connection between Supreme’s ridiculous campaign platform and serious candidates’

deceitful rhetoric.

Although satirical campaigning is not unfamiliar to the American electoral system,

Vermin Supreme’s style of political satire goes above and beyond any nonsensical campaigning

previously seen. In the case of Supreme’s campaign, a typically serious action—running for

president—is ridiculed in a way that attempts to mock not only those who run for president, but

the action of campaigning (and politics) itself. As the end result aims to persuade or alter public

opinions, one can see that Supreme’s campaign rhetoric is a satirization of the current political

electoral system, not a parody. Supreme’s involvement with the rhetorical tool of political satire

is important to a discussion of comedy in political culture because of his ability to place himself

directly into political processes. Supreme highlights what he believes to be dishonest,

untrustworthy campaign rhetoric through the presentation of his own actions, and his

interactions with others in his satirical campaign promises and policies. He presents these

policies and promises by participating in public campaign speeches, protests, and grassroots

campaigning.

 

 

Public participation, political efficacy, and political anxiety

By allowing his audience to see him participate in politics and his satirization of political

campaigns, Supreme educates them and attempts to engage internal political efficacy in his

audience. Hmielowski et all state that “political entertainment content has the ability to generate

politically relevant outcomes (Holbert, 2005; Holbert et al., 2010)” (2011, 98). Many studies on

late-night political comedy shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have found that

not only does watching these shows encourage political participation (Cao & Brewer, 2008), but

that participation can educate individuals or groups and strengthen their ability to understand

politics. In a study conducted by Finkel & Muller (1998), research showed that “participation has

a significant effect on individual and group efficacy, indicating that prior behavior leads

individuals to adjust their perceptions of both group and individual influence upward” (45). Public

participation as a function of “infotainment” also relates to the concept of political efficacy, the

faith or trust of individuals in government, and their belief that they can participate in and

understand politics. Political efficacy can be categorized in two ways: internal political efficacy

and external political efficacy. External political efficiency refers to the belief that one is effective

when participating in politics, whereas internal political efficacy refers to the belief that one can

understand and therefore participate in politics. Although Supreme is unable to garner mass

media attention in the same way that popular candidates do, Supreme’s interactions with

candidates and with the media (even on a small scale) seem to tell a story to an audience–that

one can participate in politics even if one does not agree with the government.

Through Supreme’s satirized election promises and speeches, a sense of humored

anxiety is transferred from Supreme to his audience. Supreme shows how typical the single-

platform campaign is in American politics by setting his own ‘mandatory tooth brushing law’

platform next to Ed Cowan’s “nuclear-tipped arms race… the only problem that can destroy us,”

as seen in the Lesser-Known Democratic Candidates Presidential Forum. In this satirization of

the single-platform campaign, beyond the humor, Supreme states that there is something

surreal about his campaign (“King of the Rats”), something that isn’t quite right. And it is this

uneasiness with comparing Supreme’s nonsense campaign platforms to real candidates’

platforms that creates anxiety about today’s political climate.

This becomes more obvious as Supreme’s outlandish campaign promises are compared

to some of the statements made by many other candidates. Supreme’s single-platform

campaign promises may seem outrageous, but when compared to the (very real) campaign

promises made by serious candidates for the 2012 Presidency, the pledges of the man wearing

a boot atop his head don’t seem quite as silly.  The uneasiness with which many Americans

view Supreme can be easily transferred to this election cycle’s real presidential candidates.

Republican candidate Newt Gingrich “wants to create a lunar colony that he says could become

a U.S. state” (McCaffrey). GOP candidate Rick Santorum claimed in a February 2012 article

that those who believed in climate change “are the anti-science ones,” compared to those that

believe global warming to be “based on phony studies” and that it is little more than “political

science” (Kaplan). The juxtaposition of Supreme making campaign promises that are neither

feasible nor important to the American people (no matter how much Supreme may insist that

they are of major importance) with the statements of real politicians like Gingrich and Romney

exemplifies Supreme’s ability to transfer anxiety into the political sphere.

 

Absurdity in Supreme’s campaign: A platform of Dental Law and Zombie Preparedness 

Because of the complexity of Supreme’s core argument, and the difficulty humans

inherently have in seeing critical flaws in those who we trust to lead and guide us, I argue that

Supreme uses “the absurd” in the way that he acts, speaks and dresses to say what may be

unsayable with words or by conventional means. The concept of “the absurd” is defined by

Stephen M. Halloran as when an individual “tries to say what is fundamentally unsayable” (98).

That is, when words and reason fail to properly describe a thought or idea, language is

transformed and molded to fit the experiences that the speaker or writer wishes to convey. In

some cases, this transformation manifests in language that is not conventionally

understandable, or “disengaged from reality” (99). In other cases, it manifests as “purely visual

means of communication–movement, gesture, and visual metaphor” (98). It can be seen

through Supreme’s campaign that the concept of “the absurd” is used cleverly to make

important, “unsayable” points about the American electoral system. The primary use of

absurdity in Supreme’s campaign can be seen in how he dresses, and in his many campaign

promises.

Throughout the several election cycles that Supreme has participated in, lavishly

outrageous election pledges have always been at the heart of Supreme’s satirical campaign. In

his speeches, interactions with voters, and on several parts of his campaign website, Supreme

continually states that politicians lie, “promise your electoral heart anything you desire,” and

think of the American people simply as “constituents” (“Interview with Vermin Supreme”).

However, instead of making blanket statements about present-day politicians, Supreme makes

these statements in character: by becoming one of these scheming politicians himself. He takes

this argument to the extreme and absurd by overtly playing to specific interest groups when he

is able (“King of the Rats”), and often by using language that “[turns] itself inside-out” (Halloran,

102).

Supreme’s promise to enact “mandatory tooth-brushing laws” provides an excellent and

unique example of language being turned inside-out. From afar, a law titled “mandatory tooth

brushing” may seem like a simple (yet fanciful) way to help lead Americans towards healthier

lifestyles; however, Supreme does not allow this pledge to remain in the realm of the rational.

He extends this platform to the most extreme by going on to state that this law “is not about the

preventative dental maintenance detention facilities” and “is not about the government-issued

toothpaste containing an addictive yet harmless substance” (“Interview With Vermin Supreme”).

He purposefully turns his language inside-out by showing that his platform, while stating that it is

not about any of these controlling and seemingly dangerous things, would actually be controlling

and harmful. The use of absurdity and twisted language in Supreme’s campaign shows a

unique affinity for satirization in order to articulate harsh criticisms about the American electoral

system.

It can be seen throughout his interactions with the public and in many of his online

campaign materials that Supreme is comfortable with changing his campaign promises

depending on who he interacts with and picking many platforms that are not “reality based”

(“Anarchist Runs for President … since 1988”).  A few of Vermin Supreme’s 2012 campaign

promises include plans to “kill baby Hitler before he’s even born,” use ponies as a Federal

identification system (and for use in protection from terrorism), and to protect the American

people from the “upcoming zombie apocalypse” (“Interview With Vermin Supreme”). The use of

absurdity in Supreme’s campaign platform calls to attention the equally absurd  claims and

promises made by serious presidential candidates. By making promises like mandatory teeth

brushing, “[making] crime against the law” (from Supreme’s website, August 4, 2007), and

supporting time-travel research, Supreme attempts to draw attention to the absurd statements

and guarantees that politicians often make in order to collect votes and media attention.

 

“The whole system is rotten”: And he’s the most rotten of them all!

Vermin Supreme also mocks the real processes of campaigning through his

presentation of his own campaign promises and policies, and paints serious candidates as

untrustworthy, deceitful individuals. Supreme imitates the absurd claims and labels that

politicians often give themselves, revealing a sentiment that politicians are often untrustworthy if

one examines their words carefully. In his opening statement at the “Lesser-Known Democratic

Candidates Forum” in early 2012 Supreme states that he is “a friendly fascist” and “a tyrant that

you can trust,” and that “you should let [him] run your life, because [he] knows what is best for

you.” This is an example of the absurdity of real candidates’ presentation of promises and

policies. By connecting contrasting words such as “friendly” and “fascist” (a word often

associated with decidedly unfriendly political leaders such as Mussolini, Hitler, and Francisco

Franco), Supreme mocks the absurd claims and labels that politicians give themselves,

revealing a sentiment that politicians are often untrustworthy if one examines their words

carefully. Candidates often try to promote themselves as being friendly, trustworthy, and able to

guide the country in a positive direction—that is, “we voters… make emotional, intuitive

decisions about who we prefer” (Brooks). However, these candidates are often attempting to

appeal to voters who might not have the same ideological viewpoints as them by using

rhetorical framing to appear as either more liberal or conservative, as a regular Joe or a

knowledgeable scholar, or any other set of technically conflicting traits. Supreme implies that

candidates trick the voter into thinking that they are endorsing someone who has each

individual’s best interests at heart, when they are simply using buzz words (such as “health care

reform,” “change,” or “lower taxes”) to appeal to certain audiences.

He also attempts to frame politicians as individuals willing to tell voters whatever they

want in order to gain a position of power. In a short interview with RevolutionPAC, Supreme

states explicitly that he will lie because he has “no reason not to,” and that he will “promise your

electoral heart anything you desire.” This frank statement implies that politicians think of the

American people as anything but people—simply, as Supreme states, as “electoral heart[s]

that need to be converted to that candidate’s side by any means necessary. Vermin further

states that he “has no intention of keeping any of the promises [he] make[s],” alluding to the fact

that politicians often make more promises that they can feasibly keep, or simply that some

politicians make promises only to gain the support of a particular voting bloc.

Vermin’s satirical use of popular campaign speech patterns reveals the hidden intent

and rhetoric behind these popular speech formulas. Vermin’s description of one of his main

policies (mandatory dental hygiene) follows a fairly common political speech pattern in which a

candidate identifies one or several arguments against their policy, and then tries to outweigh

those arguments by presenting a greater moral imperative that shifts the framework of the issue

to one in which they have the high ground. Rick Santorum has recently used this speech pattern

while criticizing Obama’s health care regulation that requires American employers—including

Catholic organizations—to provide employees with contraceptives in their health care coverage.

Santorum states that the issue is “not about contraception… it’s about government control of

your lives and it’s got to stop” (Santorum). Vermin satirizes this political speech pattern by giving

a list of five arguments that could be used against his policy, including “preventative dental

maintenance detention facilities” and “government-issued toothpaste containing an addictive yet

harmless substance,” and then attempting to outweigh all these arguments with a statement that

his dental policies “[are] really about strong teeth for a strong America.” Although his moral

statement attempts to justify all of the negatives about his policy, it is clear that such negatives

greatly outweigh his moral argument. The hidden intent behind the formula becomes obvious in

Vermin’s ‘satirization’ of this popular speech pattern. He shows that politicians often attempt to

frame an issue in a misleading or completely untruthful way in order to gain support for their

position.

Supreme also frames many of his policies or campaign promises in ways that attempt to

target potential voters’ main concerns or most important issues, even if the policies or promises

themselves have nothing to do with voters’ concerns. One of Supreme’s policies includes

“zombie preparedness.” Supreme states that he is the “only candidate who provides such a

plan” for preparing for the “upcoming zombie invasion.” By creating an implied threat—a zombie

invasion—and stating that he is the only candidate who is prepared for (or even acknowledges)

such a threat, Vermin attempts to satirize the tendency for candidates to “one up” political rivals

by stating that their opponents do not pay attention to important issues (even if the “important

issues” being stated are not actually important to the public).

In early 2012, Ron Paul attempts to “one up” his rivals by stating that he is “the only

candidate who wants to cut spending,” and accuses his rivals of not targeting the issue.

Although other Republican candidates may not have proposed as many reductions as Paul;

Romney, Cain, and Gingrich have all pledged to repeal Obamacare, “saving an average of $20

billion a year” (Sinn). Several of Vermin Supreme’s campaign policies are framed in such way.

He claims that his “Federal Pony Identification System” will supply jobs to all Americans, and

that “it will protect us from terrorists.” He gives no reasoning behind why this program would

protect the American people from terrorism, but is simply hitting popular “buzz words” that lead

the audience’s attention towards important issues or problems.

 

Conclusion 

Supreme’s policies have infiltrated the media from time to time ever since his decision to

enter politics. Most media outlets have described him in ways that highlight his absurd dress,

unique name, and wacky policy platforms. In the 1996 documentary, “Why Can’t I Be

President?” ABC News anchor Sam Donaldson displays reluctance, even surprise, that he

would be willing to cover satirical campaigns such as Vermin Supreme. He states, “we have a

very valuable small amount of airtime at ABC news… and that airtime ought to be devoted to

bringing to the public the plans, the hopes, the dreams, the aspirations, the qualifications of

people who are serious about it. …I should spend our time on Vermin Supreme? Not a chance!”

(Donaldson). However, few are able to get to the bottom of why Supreme runs in such strange

ways. In an interview with Charles Krauthammer, syndicated columnist from The Washington 

Post, in 1996, Supreme is described as “half nuts but half wise… slightly insane… and a lot of

accurate satire.”

We can see a distinct disparity between the views of those who believe in Supreme’s

ability to access a deeper level of political commentary and those who see Supreme as an

unqualified jester. This disparity compares to the findings of LaMarre et. al. that discuss

audience polarization, or “biased processing” (2009, 225) in response to “ambiguous deadpan

satire” (225) on The Colbert Show. After researching audience perceptions of Colbert’s opinion

on The Colbert Show, the authors found that ambiguous satire influences “individually held

political attitudes” (226). That is, members of both Republican and Democratic parties felt that

their views were being supported by Colbert on a given issue. We can see a similar

interpretation of views in how audiences perceive Vermin Supreme’s participation in politics.

Those who believe or who are open to the idea that there are major flaws within America’s

electoral system see Supreme similarly as Charles Krauthammer (“I don’t think it’s a detriment

to the political system. I think it’s a nice little accoutrement.”), whereas those who view the

electoral system as serious and idyllic may view Supreme similarly to Sam Donaldson (“airtime

ought to be devoted to… people who are serious about [becoming elected]”). Although both

sides see the comedic approach to Supreme’s actions, there are distinct differences in how

different audiences view the humor. Adding to the findings from LaMarre et. al. discuss the

differences between conservatives and liberals in the perception of political satire (226), I

believe that Supreme’s approach to political satire represents an important distinction in how

audiences view this unique kind of political satire–the satirical campaign.

On countless occasions, Vermin Supreme has made clear his desire to inform the news

media, American people, and even serious candidates themselves of the hypocrisies of our

Presidential election system. With every interview like that of Charles Krauthammer, his intent to

spread knowledge becomes a reality.

 

Works Cited

 

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Brooks, David. “How Voters Think.” NYTimes.com. The New York Times. 18 Jan. 2012. Web.

20 Feb. 2012.

Connors, Molly A.K. “He reigns supreme – Perennial candidate attracted national attention this

go-around.” ConcordMonitor.com. Concord Monitor. 15 Jan. 2012. Web. 8 Feb 2012.

Delicath, John W., & Deluca, Kevin M. “Image Events, the Public Sphere, and Argumentative

Practice: The Case of Radical Environmental Groups.” Argumentation 17: 315-333.

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Donaldson, Sam. Interview with Sam Donaldson. “Why Can’t I Be President?” YouTube.

HoldTheMayoMedia, 2007. Web. 20 Feb. 2012.

Grier, Peter. “What Did Stephen Colbert Super PAC Spend Its Money On?” The Christian 

Science Monitor. 1 Feb. 2012. Web. 11 Mar. 2012.

Halloran, Stephen M. “Language And The Absurd.” Philosophy & Rhetoric. 6.2: 97-108. Web.

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Vernacular Spectacle On YouTube In The 2008 Election.” Argumentation and Advocacy.

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TV Satire: Affinity For Political Humor, The Daily Show, And The Colbert Report.” 78.1

(2011): 96-114. Web.

“Inverview With Vermin Supreme.” RevolutionPAC. 11 Jan. 2012. Web. 6 Feb. 2012.

Kaplan, Rebecca. “Santorum: Democrats are “Anti-Science,” Not Me.” CBSNews.com. CBS

News – Political Hotsheet. 20 Feb. 2012. Web. 20 Feb. 2012.

“King of the Rats: On the Trail with Vermin Supreme.” CNN iReport. 12 Oct. 2008. Web. 6 Feb.

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Krauthammer, Charles. Oval Office Underdogs: Vermin Supreme. YouTube.

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LaMarre, Heather L., Landreville, Kristen D., Beam, Michael A. “The Irony of Satire: Political

Ideology and the Motivation to See What You Want to See in The Colbert Report.

International Journal of Press/Politics. 14.2 (2009): 212-231. Print.

McCaffrey, Shannon. “Ground control to Major Newt: Gingrich’s moon base, brain science talk

not much of an oddity.” WashingtonPost.com. The Washington Post. 31 Jan. 2012. Web.

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Sinn, Mike. “GOP Presidential Candidates’ Budget Plans EXPOSED!!!” Think by Numbers. 6

Nov. 2011. Web. 6 Feb. 2012.

Sorcher, Sara. “Romney Promises More Fighting Words in Campaign.” NationalJournal.com.

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“Vermin’s Promise.” zerohits.com/vermin/v1Cpromise.html. n.p. 24 Oct. 2000. Web. 3 May.

2012.

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Zengerle, Patricia. “Stephen Colbert’s Super PAC Raises $1 Million.” Reuters. 31 Jan. 2012.

Web. 11 Mar. 2012.


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