“Barack Obama. Now there’s a river you wouldn’t want to step in twice.” In perhaps the most groan-worthy moment of the evening, Heraclitus riffs on his well-known river aphorism to caution against re-electing the current president. He’s speaking to perhaps a dozen supporters at a Dairy Queen outside Nashville, Tennessee, on the third stop of his tour of the American Southeast.
Though you wouldn’t be able to tell from his speech tonight, Heraclitus’s official platform has three planks: (1) Things are constantly changing (universal flux), (2) Opposites coincide (the unity of opposites), and (3) Fire is the basic material of the world. The platform is summarized by the slogan, “Change. Unity. Fire.”
“People like the ‘Change’ and ‘Unity’ parts,” explains campaign adviser Jill Harnish. “They don’t actually realize what he means, but it sounds good. When he gets to ‘Fire,’ however, people usually get a little creeped out.” As a result, Harnish has steered Heraclitus away from detailed discussion of his positions and towards the cliches and sloganeering familiar from more mainstream candidates.
“I thank you for coming out tonight. Gods willing, in three weeks we will and will not take back the White House!” Heraclitus wraps up the night’s speech, bringing a grimace to Harnish’s face. “Clearly we have more work to do ironing out the whole coinstantiation-of-contraries thing.”
While he’s mostly been ignored by Obama and Mitt Romney, Heraclitus has drawn sharp criticism from another third-party candidate: Parmenides. Indeed, Parmenides’s platform can be seen largely as a critical reaction to that of Heraclitus. While his refusal to clarify ambiguous remarks has drawn comparisons to the Romney campaign, Parmenides has been interpreted as claiming that the universe consists in a single, unchanging, homogeneous substance.
“I can agree with the emphasis on unity,” says Parmenides, speaking by phone from his own campaign tour, “but Heraclitus’s change is an illusion. The only thing Heraclitus can offer is stasis.” Parmenides goes on to enumerate the contrasts that have formed the backbone of his campaign. “Where Heraclitus wants to change this country, I stand for timeless American values. Where Heraclitus sees differences, I see commonalities. Because whatever the appearances, when you think about it, we’re really all the same: we’re all Americans.”
Whether either candidate’s message will prove successful come election day remains to be seen.
[Note: The text of Heraclitus’s planks is taken verbatim from the introduction to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Heraclitus, written by Daniel W. Graham.]