Political Campaigns and the Wizard of Oz

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Finally, Election Day has come and the deluge of mailings and television commercials will end. These fine-tuned messages, crafted in hopes of manipulating voters, in a strange way, reminded me of the classic tale, the Wizard of Oz.

Not because the Wizard of Oz has been debated for half-a-century as a political parable on its own—although the issues surrounding that debate dealing with the rise of late 19th century populism have some relevance to populism driving modern day politics.

In the 1960s, a university trained historian named Henry Littlefield wrote a piece for a scholarly magazine titled, “The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism” in which he argued Frank Baum’s 1900 book “conceals an unsuspected depth” dealing with the rise of the populist movement in the previous decade.

The populism of the time was a movement of angry common people who felt they were being ignored by the political system, the Scarecrow supposedly representing the farmer, the Tin Man allegedly representing the factory worker. Dorothy’s slippers in the book were silver, not ruby, apparently a reference to the great monetary debate of the day over the coinage of silver that, it was argued, would aid the lower classes. Think of three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan (The Cowardly Lion?) and his Cross of Gold speech.

You can see an equivalency of the anger to voters today who have risen up in movements such as the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street and made unconventional choices in the voting booths in support of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders and his acolytes.

While academics have debated if Littlefield’s interpretation of the classic tale is correct, or as others have argued, that Baum was not looking for an external force such as government to help common folks but suggested, in the end, that people can find solutions to their problems by looking within themselves, my thought on the Wizard of Oz and political campaigns is not so subtle.

I think of the famous “man behind the curtain” pulling the strings. Does he represent the special interests pouring tons of money to influence voters?

I think of the frightening witch and the effort to capture a vote by scaring voters: You will lose your Social Security and Medicare; you will be subject to an invasion from south of the border.

Finally, I think of how political consultants deviously take an opposing candidate’s story and reputation and massage them into something wicked.

Take this account of the Wizard of Oz plot as written by Rick Polito in the Marin Independent Journal:

“Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.”

I bet you never read a description of the Wizard of Oz like that.

But then that’s because Dorothy never ran for office.

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