The New Hampshire primary, more than most stops on the campaign trail, is no place for human dignity. It sits at the crossroads of abasement and overhype. It is populated by rubberneckers, drunks, moral pygmies, and publicity tapeworms—and that’s before you ever leave media HQ at the Radisson Hotel on Elm Street.
But to make a reporter truly question his career choice, one need only cross the street to Veterans Memorial Park. While the election circus is in town this week, the park is inhabited by Occupy The New Hampshire Primary, a subsidiary of Occupy Wall Street™—the anticorporatist, anti-one-percenter, anti-everything movement that since last September has proved that the Tea Party ranks a distant second when it comes to screaming in the streets while wearing fruity costumes.
It is here that I encounter Vermin Supreme, shouting through an electric megaphone about getting the money out of politics while wearing a rubber wading boot on his head. You’ve probably heard of Vermin already. He’s been featured everywhere from CNN to the Washington Post. With flowing gray hair and beard, he looks like Tolkien’s Gandalf, except instead of wearing wizard’s robes, he dons a loud tiger-striped jacket and seven or eight ties simultaneously, reasoning that “the more ties you wear, the higher rank you are.”
Between being an odd-jobber—doing everything from painting houses to dressing as Babar the Elephant for the Baltimore Museum of Art—Vermin is a career gadfly activist. Like so many other opportunistic grievance-groupers, he’s hitched his wagon to Occupy, realizing the publicity they generate is a force multiplier, which helps his fledgling campaign for president. He’s on the ballot in New Hampshire, challenging Barack Obama on the Democratic side. Vermin’s issues—which are deliberately beside the point, like most of the issues of mainstream candidates running this cycle—include mandatory tooth-brushing (“Strong Teeth for a Strong America”) and a pony for every citizen. It’s a promise that’s only slightly less sustainable than the ones his competition made in 2008.
I ask Vermin the significance of the boot on his head. “It stands for all that is good with America,” he says. I don’t get it, I respond. “Oh man! You and the media with your tough, follow-up questions,” he grimaces. “You got me, fella. What this boot is really about is attracting media interest. It’s like a f—ing hooker’s red light, okay? Who’s the guy with the boot? You come over and start talking to me. There you go, it works!”
We chat for a while about his hopes and dreams. “My own personal goal was always to beat Lyndon LaRouche,” Vermin confides. He relates some of his campaign highlights, such as the time he glitter-bombed Randall Terry at the Lesser Known Candidates Presidential Forum, claiming that Jesus had instructed him to turn Terry gay. “It was a one-off,” says Vermin. “It is not my tactic. If I were to become a serial glitter-bomber, it would seriously impact my ability to get close enough to candidates to ask them a stupid question.”
In fact, he’s just back from a Rick Santorum event. It was a nice break for him, since Santorum was late, so Vermin availed himself of the empty podium and warmed up the crowd. “It was beautiful,” says Vermin. “It was very fine. It was at a smaller restaurant [where Santorum] was totally outnumbered by protesters and the media, of course. Because the media are probably responsible for half the given people at any event anyway. It’s just a big show-and-tell, you know? The media and the politicians—it’s a feedback loop.”
I ask Vermin if he’d like to join me for Occupy’s “Bird-Dogging Political Candidates” clinic at a nearby church. He declines. “I’ve got my bird-dogging system down,” he says, waving his megaphone. I walk away, but before I can cross the street, Vermin yells through the megaphone for me to come back. He wants me to meet some admirers who just approached—Ron Paul supporters in buttons and tricorn hats who ecstatically tell Vermin that they just saw him on C-SPAN.
Since I last spent quality time with the Occupy movement in October, at their Zuccotti Park Ground Zero, their hundreds of nationwide encampments (now mostly disbanded by local authorities) have generated barrels of ink. If it’s true that any publicity is good publicity, then Occupy is golden, having garnered headlines for Occupiers’ defecating on cop cars, splattering blood and urine on food carts after vendors stopped their free service, masturbating in public, perpetrating sexual assaults, storming hospitals and ports, spitting on Coast Guard members, singing “F— the USA,” and drawing the support of China and the Communist party. My very favorite Drudge headline: “SHOCK VIDEO: Occupy Toronto: ‘This Man Was in my Tent Sniffing my Girlfriend’s Feet.’ ”