What Kanye gets about America's voters
"Clean up the chemicals," Kanye West recently told an interviewer from Forbes. "In our deodorant, in our toothpaste, there are chemicals that affect our ability to be of service to God." This principled stand against whatever ingredient — aluminum maybe? — in commercially manufactured antiperspirants that runs contrary to the natural law makes me like America's last rock star even more than I did before he announced last Saturday that he was going ahead with his presidential campaign, and I like him quite a bit.
I mean, really, who else says this stuff? Would anyone really expect, much less want, the guy who did Life of Pablo to run on lower taxes and block-granting Medicare to the states? Of course Kanye says that "when" — not "if," mind you — he becomes president "the NBA will open all the way back up from Nigeria to Nanchang and the world will see the greatest athletes play." Of course he says he is going to put his friend Elon Musk in charge of space affairs and dismisses the conventional Black History Month curriculum as "torture porn" and the former vice president against whom he is ostensibly running as "not special." If you weren't ready for this you haven't been paying attention.
The same goes for his unabashedly anti-abortion views. At a time when social conservatism is mostly an unedifying series of non-debates about the flag and kneeling and whether #MeToo (remember that?) has gone too far, Kanye sounds like Pat Buchanan in 1992, arguing for prayer in public schools and insisting that "We have to stop doing things that make God mad." He has been open about his pro-life views for some time and has spoken more forcefully about the issue than the vast majority of Republican politicians.
With his typical marketing savvy, Kanye seems to have intuited that the kind of people who care the most about outlawing abortion in 2020 are also more likely to be concerned about toxic ingredients in common household products than with marginal tax rates ("I haven't done enough research on that yet. I will research that with the strongest experts that serve God and come back with the best solution"). The real audience for his presidential bid — and for records like last year's Jesus is King, released suspiciously close to the traditional Catholic feast of that name — are crunchy church-going homeschooling moms.
I am a principled non-voter, but I would be lying if I said that Kayne's platform — or at least the few parts of it that are coherent — was not appealing to me despite my lifelong aversion to granola and homeopathy. Tedious scolds who feel compelled to ask whether a man who once yelled "F–-- with the lights on" 12 times in a row during a song called "Hell of a Life" can really be an effective messenger for social conservatism need to remind themselves who the first president ever to star in a Playboy special was.
All of which leads us to the big questions: Is Kanye for real here? If he is, when does he plan on filing paperwork with the Federal Election Commission or gathering signatures to ensure that his name appears on balls in the 44 remaining states in which this is possible? Is he really as comfortable as he claims to be with the possibility of a third-party run helping to throw the election to President Trump, whom he seems to have disavowed largely because the former is apparently the only thing standing between him and the GOP presidential nomination?
I am not so sure these things matter. Kanye's presidential campaign is more important for what it tells us about the possible range of shared opinions in America in 2020 than for its chances of success. The College Dropout star does not have a plausible chance at the White House this fall, but he does remind us that there are millions of Americans who are equally committed to ending police brutality and to outlawing abortion, and for whom these opinions can co-exist with even more outré opinions.
Kanye is a weird guy, ostensibly running to be president of a nation of more or less righteous weirdos.
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