We’re learning to care less and less about what weird shit resurfaces from political candidates’ viral video pasts.
Screenshot via YouTube
There’s a video online of Eric Brakey, who won the Maine Republican nomination for US Senate on Tuesday, dancing in a Speedo. He’s pale and writhing in front of a bedroom mirror, and if it were me, it would be embarrassing to have the world watch it. It looks like a private video that Brakey may have shot by himself in his bedroom, but according to Maine’s Press Herald, it’s part of a commercial for Vita Coco coconut water, which hired Brakey in 2011 for a shoot.
The video surfaced in 2013, when Brakey was running for a state senate seat. Brakey’s opponent at the time, Mike Hein, thought he’d come across some serious political ammo. Hein spread it to church pastors and circulated it to the press. But Brakey, who wasn't even 25 years old at the time, shook it off. “It shows another side of me that voters need to see,” he told the Press Herald at the time. “If people want to look into that, that’s OK.”
Brakey won then, and again last night. We’re heading into a future where every political candidate will have some kind of embarrassing online history, so it’s good that a harmless dancing video didn’t ruin this guy’s chances of running or winning.
The entire situation is nicely encapsulated in a brief comment exchange on a “Harlem Shake” remix of the Speedo video:
Brakey’s now running against Maine’s Democratic nominee for US senate Zak Ringelstein. Like Brakey, Ringelstein has had his own history of goofy internet fame resurfaced: He’s a country pop musician turned politician, and one of his music videos, “Raised in the U.S.A.,” started making the Facebook rounds this month. In the first few seconds of the video, we see Ringelstein—whose musical persona is “Zak Mountain”—strip down and jump in a lake.
“At the end of the day, people want to know who I am, and if people want to know that I’ve skinny-dipped, that’s awesome, because if you haven’t skinny-dipped, go live a little bit,” he told the Press Herald.
We’re on the cusp of a major generational shift in politics: The people running for office in the coming years are the first generation to be extremely online for most of their lives. People who’ve never known a time before the internet—yes, Millennials—are now running for political office, and that means their online histories are on display and preserved in a way no previous generation of politicians ever had to contend with.
As long as these online histories don't reveal the kind of bad judgment and character that can harm others (for example, audio of the candidate openly talking about sexually assaulting women) none of that should matter. We all have mistakes filed away online, after all. It’s where we grew up, and part of growing up is making a bunch of mistakes.
As voters grow up along with candidates, we’ll care less about a Speedo dancing videos, and more about the minutiae of their past selves’ convictions. Previous generations had the luxury of being forgotten. If no one took photos or videos, their awkward teenage phases or college dorm rants are gone forever. Whatever problematic beliefs they held as kids are lost to time—if they were cruel, or changed their convictions as they got older, unless there’s written or recorded evidence, its hard to mount a case against them for it. But for a generation that’s never logged off, it’s all out there.