Monday, June 27, 2011

The scary world of American politics


The race for the Republican nomination for the 2012 presidential nomination is heating up across the border. Like many of my friends, I've been amused (and amazed) at the kinds of things that become campaign fodder in that party. Tea party politics, gay rights, big government, big hair - Canadians like to mock the discussion.

But it's disconcerting to see how crazy, ugly and scary things are getting in the US. For example, consider an article in this month's Rolling Stone, Michelle Bachmann's Holy War. The congresswoman is running for president and you won't believe the back story.

Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and, as you consider the career and future presidential prospects of an incredible American phenomenon named Michele Bachmann, do one more thing. Don’t laugh.

It may be the hardest thing you ever do, for Michele Bachmann is almost certainly the funniest thing that has ever happened to American presidential politics. Fans of obscure 1970s television may remember a short-lived children’s show called Far Out Space Nuts, in which a pair of dimwitted NASA repairmen, one of whom is played by Bob (Gilligan) Denver, accidentally send themselves into space by pressing “launch” instead of “lunch” inside a capsule they were fixing at Cape Canaveral. This plot device roughly approximates the political and cultural mechanism that is sending Michele Bachmann hurtling in the direction of the Oval Office.

The profile painted by writer Matt Taibbi is, to say the least, unflattering. But as he notes, don't make the mistake of dismissing her because she's so clearly deluded. Each time her opponents have done that, it's only made her stronger.

In modern American politics, being the right kind of ignorant and entertainingly crazy is like having a big right hand in boxing; you’ve always got a puncher’s chance. And Bachmann is exactly the right kind of completely batshit crazy. Not medically crazy, not talking-to-herself-on-the-subway crazy, but grandiose crazy, late-stage Kim Jong-Il crazy — crazy in the sense that she’s living completely inside her own mind, frenetically pacing the hallways of a vast sand castle she’s built in there, unable to meaningfully communicate with the human beings on the other side of the moat, who are all presumed to be enemies.

This is the dark side of where our world is headed. No longer do political leaders need to be concerned with truth, or even reality. Get prepared for a Presidential campaign that is going to set new standards for what is considered fair game. And the crazier the better, it appears. Nothing is too outlandish.

It's going to be quite a show. Taibbi's profile of Bachmann will be dismissed by her supporters, who will merely note how by attacking her, he's only proving her point. And perhaps that's the scariest part of this. We've arrived at the point where any serious debate about the truth is not possible. The polarization seems complete and there doesn't appear to be any way to have a rational discussion - at least in public. But as the article concludes, those who call Bachmann nuts and want to laugh off her outrageous untruths and outright lies had better be careful.

It could happen. Michele Bachmann has found the flaw in the American Death Star. She is a television camera's dream, a threat to do or say something insane at any time, the ultimate reality-show protagonist. She has brilliantly piloted a media system that is incapable of averting its eyes from a story, riding that attention to an easy conquest of an overeducated cultural elite from both parties that is far too full of itself to understand the price of its contemptuous laughter. All of those people out there aren't voting for Michele Bachmann. They're voting against us. And to them, it turns out, we suck enough to make anyone a contender.

- Link to the whole article here

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