Buzzfeed got presidential candidate Ted Cruz to “audition” for “The Simpsons,” and it’s a performance to behold. It also tells us something about modern American politics, for better or worse.
But before we get to the larger meaning, here’s what happened: In April, Senator Cruz (R) of Texas told The Federalist Radio Hour that he’s a big "Simpsons" fan, but when asked to recite a line from the show, he botched it.
"Simpsons" showrunner Al Jean was reportedly not amused. So when Cruz visited the offices of Buzzfeed recently, he was offered a chance to redeem himself. Cruz has a reputation for being a tad self-important, and here was a way to show his lighter side.
But it wasn’t just a do-over. Buzzfeed had Cruz “audition” for the cast. Harry Shearer, who voices Ned Flanders, Montgomery Burns, and others, is leaving the show, so there’s an opening. And who knows, if this presidential thing doesn’t work out, Cruz might have a future in show biz. His version of Mr. Burns was “eeex-cellent,” his Mr. Flanders downright “okily-dokily,” and his “twirling for freedom,” well, you just have to watch. Cruz even nails the voices of both Lisa and Homer Simpson.
“I have been told many times I have a face for radio, and I have a face for animation,” the tea-party conservative joked.
Cruz also managed to work in the fact that he’s running for president.
The liberal-leaning news site Salon accused Cruz of “shamelessly pander[ing] for your votes with an absurd ‘Simpsons’ audition.” We say, guilty as charged. And get used to it. Because more than ever, politicians are jumping into pop culture with both feet.
In February, President Obama did a Buzzfeed video making faces, using a selfie stick, and drawing a doodle of wife Michelle. In January, he sat for an interview with GloZell, the YouTube star known for getting in a tub with Froot Loops and milk. He’s done interviews “between two ferns” and in a comedian’s garage. And he’s done more late-night appearances than any other president.
Now his wannabe successors are getting in on the action. Last month, right after announcing his presidential campaign, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) appeared on “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon to “slow jam” the news, a shtick Obama took part in three years ago.
There’s really nothing new here. In September 1968, candidate Richard Nixon went on “Laugh-In” and said into the camera, “Sock it to meee,” the show’s signature line.
Two months later, Mr. Nixon won the presidency. We’re not suggesting cause and effect, but campaign aides will tell you that a politician showing his or her sense of humor is a plus.
Still, we do come back to the question we asked back in January, when Obama did the GloZell interview: Are such appearances undignified or smart outreach?
Judging by how often politicians are dipping into pop culture these days, we think we know answer.