Penn Jillette: What shocked me about the campaign videos

Story highlights

  • Penn Jillette reviews the videos presidential candidates made to announce they're running. He was looking for ideas, not soundbites
  • When it was over, he was surprised at which candidate among them would get his vote, if these were the only choices

Penn Jillette, a writer, television host and frequent guest on a wide range of shows, is half of the Emmy Award-winning magic act duo Penn & Teller. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)I just watched a bunch of the presidential candidates' announcement videos, one after the other. I won't try to guess how they might affect "would-be voters." I'm going to struggle to explain how these stupid videos affected one would-be voter: me.

I'm a political hedonist. I want to feel good about my gal or guy. I don't want to just feel only less horrible. And I won't vote for the "lesser of two evils" so as not to "waste my vote." Someone needs to really deserve my vote to get it.
So I didn't try to guess how these videos will affect other voters, but this is how they affected me. You are the others -- so click on the candidate's name to watch, and then look in the mirror and give your own report. Remember, we're the people.
    Penn Jillette
    Here we go:
    Ben Carson: I hate the guy's movie-preview voice and I don't like that little hipster-farmer Frank Zappa "flavor-saver" beard without the mustache. "Heal, Inspire, Revive"? Not one of those words has anything to do with government. He says he's a leader who "derives his power from God." Good, let God vote for him. God, hipster farmer, movie-trailer voice: Nope.
    Carly Fiorina: "If you're tired of the soundbites, the vitriol, the pettiness, the egos, the corruption . . ." That soundbite, which her "meet Carly" video shows after a video of Hillary Clinton, is vitriolic and petty. Someone running for president isn't supposed to attack anyone for having too much ego? I can't attack anyone for having too much ego, and I'm just a Vegas magician. I do like that Carly did her own ad and didn't use a hipster farmer. I hate that hipster farmer. I noticed she also mentioned nothing about government, but if Ben and Carly were my only two choices, I'd vote for Carly. I could also make the righteous choice and use that Tuesday to surf porn on the Internet.
    Seven things that appear in most campaign videos
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      Seven things that appear in most campaign videos


    Seven things that appear in most campaign videos 01:09
    Mike Huckabee: He has the best name. It's abbreviated "Huck" and that brings to mind one of my favorite books and it rhymes with my favorite word. He plays bass, he's pretty funny and he lost a lot of weight — what's not to like? Everything else. Also not one word about ideas of government.
    Marco Rubio: "After months of deliberation and prayer . . ." Thirty-six seconds in, and I'm out. He looks like a shaved and dressed-up hipster farmer. He might have said something about government, but I never got there.
    Ted Cruz: "It's a time for truth," he says. As opposed to other times? "Rise to the challenge." Rise to what challenge? Not one of these candidates has stated any ideas whatsoever. I know you know that, but have you watched these? I don't want hope and a new direction from these people -- I get that from my family and friends. I really don't care how great and inspiring these people are. I don't want great and inspiring, I want ideas that I can agree or disagree with.
    Hillary Clinton: It's hard not to think of her team saying, "You know, Hill, we think the most important thing about this video is that you not be in it much -- not at all in the first half. And let's not use your voice much at all, you know, at least not until about halfway through. And let's not talk about anything you've said or done before . . . not even at the end. Not ever. Never."
    I never considered myself a Hillary fan, but I love her to pieces compared with the people who put this video together. It's just to-do lists from random actors (I don't care who they started out as, once they're in a video, they're actors). These actors have nothing to do with Hillary, or government.
    Not seeing or hearing much of Hillary or being reminded of anything she's ever done really was their best bet at winning me. And I always like seeing men holding hands, but some of the other people had a little hipster-farmer vibe.
    Rand Paul: He's one-upped Hillary's staying out of your own campaign video by having YouTube take his campaign video down after the site's Content ID technology identified a copyright problem. YouTube is "The man," and they took down Rand's video trying to get me to vote for him to be "the man." My heart is very conflicted on Rand Paul.
    He is, as far as I can tell, the only candidate who's talked about what he will do other than offering hope. He's spoken against the National Security Agency, and that alone makes him the frontrunner just because he said something. Maybe the others said something, too, just not in their videos.
    I remember he also said something slightly weasely about vaccines. Maybe a tiny itty-bit against vaccines and he's a little bit pro-God in government? I liked his dad's being anti-war and I kind of like that I didn't have to watch another stupid video, but that's not enough to win me over. Bye-bye, Randy.
    Bernie Sanders: I'm a capitalist. I'm for trying to solve every problem with more freedom and not more government. I'm for more freedom even if more freedom causes problems. I think the Koch brothers have a right to free speech. I like what the Kochs did to help gay rights. A Koch-funded hospital might have saved my buddy's life, and certainly helped him walk again.
    I disagree with KoBros a lot, but probably less with them than I disagree with Bernie Sanders -- it's hard to measure. It's like comparing Vermont apples and billions of barrels of oil. Bernie is kind of a socialist and I'm kinda not. He's for big government, and I'm not. He thinks central planning can solve problems and I think even if central planning could solve problems, I'm against it.
    It's the freedom thing. I'm a New Englander, a Western Masshole from right near New Hampshire and Vermont, and I'm much more of a New Hampshire, free-state guy than a People's Republic of Vermont guy.
    All that being said -- if I had nothing to go on other than these announcements, Bernie would have my vote wrapped up. I'm shocked by that. I've always just dismissed him as not my kind of nut. But checking my heart, it seems I'd rather have ideas that I disagree with then no ideas at all. He doesn't look like he's selling peanut butter or douche. He doesn't sound like he's selling a Marvel comics movie. He seems like he wants to talk about how we should govern ourselves and he knows we can disagree without being evil.
    If these candidates are my only choices (and they are not!), I would vote for Bernie if for no other reason than he didn't offer me hope, and he didn't make me feel that if I voted for him, I would win something. He made me feel like we should talk about government.
    I have no idea how these videos will affect the people, but I was shocked by how they affected this one person.
    Bernie? That's gotta change, right?