WARNING: This paper is educational, of course.

    Now that the election of 2012 has, like a cross child, been put to bed, and we seem to already be thinking about 2016, the student journalist must learn to study future politicians the way an entomologist studies insects. It’s a story of ballots and two-legged beetles.

    It’s hard to believe, but there are more than 400,000 different species of beetle. As biologist J. S. Haldane said, “I don’t know if there is a God, but if there is he must be inordinately fond of beetles.”

    I don’t know whether there’s a God either, but if there is he or she must be very fond of American politicians, because there are so many of them. Like beetles, they emerge seasonally from the woodwork into media brightness, flutter stubby wings, move clumsily from one place to another and leave a smelly residue wherever they land.

    Beetles, we are told, emerge from their hideous pupae fully formed and sentient. A novice politician, on the other hand, will need instruction in the ways of political predation. Student journalists, regardless of chosen specialization, should study politicians' preparation.

    First, politicians must learn how to give a speech. We are not yet sure how beetles communicate with each other but, for American politicians, folksy accents and vernaculars matter much if they are to mate successfully with warm-bodied voters. Their speech may ring with a western twang or resonate with New England nasal, but whatever the sound, it must never suggest a first class education.

    Not everyone is cut out to be a successful politician in America, the most important personal attributes of which are said to be genetically recessive. They include a fire in the belly and a willingness to be programmed by handlers.

    The candidate will be given a new identity or legend, like a CIA agent about to be inserted into a village in a foreign land. Whatever the real origins, he or she must be able to describe a hardscrabble, impoverished childhood. There are hardly any log cabins left in America in which to be born, but there are plenty of Detroit neighborhoods. There, it will be told, the candidate was brought painfully to political and social awareness. Emerging tough as leather, with a soul as soft as a baby’s bottom, he or she will be said to have learned the way of the road.

    As the campaign develops, successful candidates will be made to appear strong in moral purpose and formidable in battle. So it is, for example, with the Goliath Beetle of Africa, which is four inches long, heavily armored and behaves as if he knows it.

    Insofar as the candidate’s marriage and family are concerned, the same individual will appear a model of family devotion and monogamous fidelity, although for some this may prove difficult. Unplanned events occur. Politicians rat on friends and mistresses bear children. The politician’s public and private lives are separate domains, strongly influenced by ego and libido. What happens in one of them sometimes wrecks the other, especially if the media get hold of it. So it is with beetles, some of whom suffer in sunlight.

    The apprentice journalist will note that just as there are many species of beetle, so there are many kinds of American politician, each of whom has characteristics that can be featured by the press. There are elegant females, with brightly colored antennas. There are macho males, proud of their role as cheerleaders on the hard-fought playing fields of little league athletics. And, in nearly every political campaign there emerges as least one example of the human variety of dung beetle, the nature of whose obsession cannot be described fully in a family magazine.

    Biologists tell us that a beetle who can feast on dung is likely to survive. So is a politician who makes his way successfully through a political dinner. The quality of food served on these occasions being what it is, the experienced professional concentrates on the bread and rolls and leaves the funny looking fish to his opponent. If he can’t give the press a good after dinner speech without belching, it’s not the fire in his belly. . .it’s indigestion.

    So politicians push on and wend their ways. Just as a beetle finds its destiny in garbage, a political candidate seeks a place in Washington, D.C., or a lesser capitol. In the end, politicians, like beetles, have their role to play in the primordial soup of American society. We do not know how we would fare without them—although some people say they’d like to find out.

    And, unhappily, there’s nearly always a new charismatic leader waiting in the wings, ready to show them how.

  • Raymond Fielding is Dean Emeritus of the College of Motion Picture Arts in Florida State University. He is the author of numerous books, articles and television documentaries. He lives in Florida and may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..