H i s b iceps bulging in a tight black button-up, Gabe Delaney asks us whether we think he will be a doormat or matador if elected to be President of the Undergraduate Assembly at Penn.
With the UA rocked by the near impeachment of its current president and student apathy towards student government at a peak, what is Gabe Delaney trying to achieve by basing his entire campaign off the TV show, “House of Cards?” The TV show epitomizes everything people hate about politics in general and the UA in particular: corruption, self-serving members and inefficiency.
Delaney is no political novice — he has been campaigning ever since he got to Penn, and his image has changed with every election. In his unsuccessful bid to be the 2015 Class President, he addressed his voters in a suit, grandiosely proclaiming in his campaign video that “Our moment is here; our moment is now.” He was defeated by a vibrant Ariel Koren campaign that focused on the community rather than on herself. Delaney learned some lessons from his defeat, and the slogan of his successful campaign to be vice-president of the UA was “Gabe Delaney, Make Honesty Your Policy.” In his video, he mainly let supporters do the talking, and at the end of the video, even dances with a baseball cap on. The hues of his promotional materials were warmer and the message was clear: Gabe is an honest, down-to-earth leader who cares about Penn and knows how to have fun.
This year, however, Gabe tries to balance two contrived and contradictory images. In the colorful A4 posters hung up around campus, a beaming Gabe in a bow tie tells voters to “Be the change you want to see.” On his website, he says he aspires to “reconstitute what it means to be a UA member — our work should be about service, advocacy and action.” Meanwhile, in his campaign video and most of his other promotional materials, the colors are dark, and the music and images are taken from “House of Cards,” which of course is all about rank ambition and corruption.
What’s baffling is why Gabe felt the need to change the image that served him so well last year. The current persona not only contradicts his past campaigns, but also Gabe himself. As ambitious and self-serving as he may be, he also is honest about his goals and motives. In his UA profile, he admits that serving on the UA is a learning opportunity for his larger ambition of holding elected office, and in conversation, he asks for my number “because you seem like someone important to know.”
But beyond the hearty slaps on the back and the firm handshakes, there is more than just another politician. Gabe enjoys the process of politics and admires the rhetoric of the greatest presidents of the past, but even a short conversation with him shows that he is informed and cares about the issues facing the Penn community. His hand gestures become animated and his voice determined when talking about mental health in person, and yet in his campaign video, he talks about the problem while imitating the accent of Frank Underwood, the slick and self-serving hero of “House of Cards.”
Gabe isn’t slick, and he’s misread the Penn community if he thinks that channeling that image can help him get elected. He, and the rest of us, would be better served if instead of a cheap persona, he introduced voters to the real Gabe Delaney.
Xavier Flory is a College junior from Nokesville, Va. His email address is email@example.com. Follow him @FloryXavier.