Talking Politics- Ribbon Clerks Commentary | KBIA

Talking Politics- Ribbon Clerks Commentary

Feb 16, 2016

Credit File Photo / KBIA

Welcome to Talking Politics. KBIA’s weekly show dedicated to talking about local and national politics. On this week’s show Dr. Terry Smith, KBIA’s regular political commentator and a political science professor at Columbia College is back in the studio with a commentary on what the term “ribbon clerks” means in the political arena. 

There are four definitions of the term “ribbon clerk.”  Three are derogatory.  The one of interest today is the one that applies to poker.  You can look the others up.

In poker the serious players try to drive the ribbon clerks, the bettors who are cheap or passive, from the game.  As you poker players know, poker for money at any level is not for sissies.  Aggressiveness and luck are at least as important as skill.

During every presidential election campaign there are complaints about Iowa and New Hampshire:

•        They’re too small.

•        They’re too white.

•        They’re too early.

•        The list goes on.

Well, these criticisms may have some validity but one thing that Iowa and New Hampshire do that is necessary to the American political system is that they run the ribbon clerks from the game.  In 2016, in alphabetical order they are:

•        Governor Christie of New Jersey

•        Carly Fiorina

•        Former Governor Huckabee of Arkansas

•        Former Governor O’Malley of Maryland

•        Senator Paul of Kentucky

•        Former Senator Santorum from Pennsylvania

The GOP field started with 17 and is now five – well, six if you include Ben Carson, whose campaign is moribund.

Every single person on this list is a serious, ambitious and consequential person, a patriotic American and someone who had a grand time imagining him or herself in the Oval Office.  To call them “ribbon clerks” is to trivialize their achievements and motivations, and I should call them to apologize.  But even deep governmental experience does not necessarily make you presidential material.

To complete the ribbon clerk analogy: after they have been run out of the game, you still don’t know who has won until the winner claims the pot.  In other words, when the ribbon clerks fold, nothing has been decided, but much has been clarified.

Now Republicans have the outsider (Trump), the anti-establishment insider (Cruz), and three establishment insiders (Bush, Kasich and Rubio).  This highly unstable situation will not be resolved until there is only one establishment candidate.  It is impossible to say today who that will be or when that will happen.

Now Democrats have the upstart but establishment leftist (Sanders) and a deeply-wounded establishment liberal (Clinton) fighting it out for a while in territory that is friendlier to Clinton.

We’ve never seen anything like this and, as the fabulous classic rock band Bachman Turner Overdrive sang: “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”