If you are an unemployed young American, right now you are probably asking yourself: what are the job opportunities of the future? Opportunities more remunerative than unpaid internships and more accessible than, say, synchronized swimming?
Consider a career as a political tracker.
The trackers are the people hired to follow around a candidate’s opponent and record every single thing he says or does. Maybe he’ll get tired and admit to an audience that he forged his college diploma or that he’s wanted for cattle rustling in Wyoming. Probably not. But it is possible that he’ll casually tell a questioner that he prays the media will stop covering “sob stories” about how someone “couldn’t get, you know, their food stamps or this or that.” Which did actually happen the other day in Wisconsin.
So no campaign should be without an opposition tracker. Honestly, if a candidate for the U.S. Senate is not being constantly trailed by some earnest young person with an HD camera, it means that she is so hopelessly behind in the polls that nobody cares if she crashes her car into an Adopt-a-Pet van. It’s sort of insulting. I’ll bet there are borderline candidates out there who hire someone to pose as a tracker just so people will think they’re being taken seriously.
You may be wondering about job requirements. Chris Harris, the spokesman for American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic research organization that employs 18 trackers, says they need to be “part cinematographer and part political operative” as well as “generally versed in policy and history.”
However, the most critical qualification for a tracker is to know what the trackee looks like. This came up recently in Indiana when a man who was hired to track Rep. Joe Donnelly, the Democratic Senate candidate, mistakenly wound up tailing a criminal court judge named Jose Salinas, who believed that he was being stalked by an aggrieved former defendant and went to the police.
Also, trackers should be careful not to ask the person they’re trailing for medical help. In Arizona, a man who was filming the every move of the Democratic Senate candidate Richard Carmona mentioned that he had a strange bump on his leg and Carmona, who used to be the U.S. surgeon general, diagnosed a possible hematoma. The examination was filmed by the Carmona campaign, which, of course, had trackers tracking the trackers.
You do not need this sort of basic operation on the presidential level because every single word any candidate says is instantly recorded by hundreds of cameras and cellphones and magic little boxes that no one over the age of 23 knows about, but which, I understand, can take images and turn them into robot holograms capable of doing basic household chores.
So the presidential campaigns have to go the extra mile. Right now Mitt Romney is off on a four-day bus tour, and the Obama forces are following the same route in a bus full of Massachusetts state legislators from the Mitt era, called “Romney Economics: The Middle Class Under the Bus.” (Everything about the Romney campaign seems somehow connected to transit: buses, horses, car elevators, dogs strapped to the car roof.)
“We’re going ahead of his route,” said Brad Woodhouse, the communications director for the Democratic National Committee. “We don’t want to directly confront him. We don’t honk horns and act childish like his campaign does.”
Tracking first became a glamour career in 2006, when Sen. George Allen of Virginia saw one in the crowd, announced he wanted a campaign of “positive, constructive ideas” and then jovially and repeatedly referred to a young Indian-American who was filming him as “macaca.” It pretty much undid Allen’s campaign, and he lost his re-election race. Although he’s running again now.
Nobody ever goes away in this business, people. Eliot Spitzer has a new cable TV show. John McCain is still in the Senate. Just when you thought you’d gotten them out, they’re back in again.
There was a time when recording a candidate’s every motion would have been regarded as impolite. In the 19th century, when reporters first started showing up on the campaign trail, politicians would refuse to give their stump speech because there was a person in the crowd who was trying to write down the exact words. Totally unfair.
But that was long ago, when a good political campaign involved rousing, three-hour speeches and people rolling huge balls from town to town to demonstrate their partisan commitment, and torchlight parades and drunken attacks on your opponent’s parades and balls. Nobody even knew what the candidates looked like. And voter participation was nearly twice as high as it is now that we’ve had the opportunity to see absolutely everything that goes on.
Gail Collins is a regular columnist for The New York Times.MORE IN Election Letters
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