I pay attention to politics for a lot of reasons. Primarily, I’m interested in the advancement of progressive ideas and the defeat of Bush-era Republicans and everything they have come to represent. But, other than simple civic-mindedness, there are reasons to watch the quadrennial drama that is our national election process other than the constant parsing of positions and strategy. Not the least of these is entertainment.
Barack Obama’s 30 minute infomercial this week was one kind of satisfying political entertainment. It was a marvel of effective message delivery. From the beautifully photographed video of amber waves of grain and real people facing real problems to the live remarks by the candidate before yet another throng of supporters in Florida, it was a remarkably powerful presentation.
It also helps that Obama himself is a great communicator in ways that the transparent hand-puppet Ronald Reagan could only dream of. He had not only his total command of the medium and the message on his side; he also has the great benefit of totally on right side of every issue and – ultimately and very soon – of history.
But my favorite form of entertainment has always been comedy. And, for that, the Republicans in this election cycle have proven the funniest cast of characters to ever disgrace the national stage.
In the primary season, our sides split at the antics of hapless and fatally-flawed Rudy Giuliani; cartoonish robo-candidate with the magic underpants, Mitt Romney; and crazy uncle Ron Paul. Mike Huckabee actually had a genuine sense of humor and got off some decent lines, when he wasn’t off on some quack religious tangent.
Alas, the last candidate standing was the most boring – John McCain. McCain was somewhat amusing himself before he took the nomination. But, ever since then, he has locked himself into a hideous straightjacket, stuffing his modest personal charm so far down his throat he can barely talk. It seemed we were going to be subjected to another tightly-scripted, highly-disciplined Republican campaign, with all the entertainment value of a horror movie. When they are on their game, every day is Halloween for the Republicans. Scary is all they can do.
But that was before McCain pulled the Sarah Palin stunt. Ever since then, the campaign has been a laugh a minute. From the campaign hiding her from the press to her hilarious cluelessness in a couple of innocuous interviews, Palin was the gift that kept on giving. In the meantime, McCain himself melted down in public, careening like a car with no brakes at the height of the financial crisis; pacing around the stage, smirking and rolling his eyes during the debates; and throwing forty years of honor and hard work down the toilet of his own doomed campaign.
Now, the week before an electoral thrashing that was preordained years ago, the Republicans are at each other's throats. This is an amazing development after the eight years of the tightly-controlled Bush years, when the message discipline of Karl Rove extended from the White House, through Congress, and all the way through the talk-radio echo chamber. Now, the "party", if that’s what is still is, and even the McCain campaign itself has divided into pro- and anti-Palin camps. As Tom Waits sang: "Everyone’s looking for someone to blame". Watching the circular finger-pointing in a room where everyone is guilty is comedy at its finest.
Some close to McCain are calling Palin a "diva" and a "whack job". She has gone "rouge", Sarah-being-Sarah, and the campaign be damned, say those running an already damned campaign that didn’t need her help to get there. Meanwhile, Palin herself is supposedly already designing snow-machine paths for the Rose Garden in 2012, declaring herself, against all appearances, as a permanently national presence (this, at the same time 59% of those polled find her unqualified).
My favorite example of the coming Republican fratricide are comments made by Jim Nuzzo, described as "a White House aide to the first President Bush". Nuzzo reportedly "dismissed Mrs Palin's critics as ‘cocktail party conservatives’ who ‘give aid and comfort to the enemy’...There's going to be a bloodbath. A lot of people are going to be excommunicated. David Brooks and David Frum and Peggy Noonan are dead people in the Republican Party. The litmus test will be: where did you stand on Palin?" Now that’s funny. I can’t wait to see the nut-right try to nominate Palin in 2012. If they succeed, it will be the end of Republican party legitimacy.
I do think Nuzzo has one good point, but not the way he intended. "The litmus test will be: where did you stand on Palin?" This is an excellent question for those who might pretend to present reasonable commentary after the election. Nobody who is serious about national policy can possibly support the cynical nomination of such an unqualified nobody. If they did, they are simply Republican flacks, willing to say anything to defend the indefensible. Their judgement is thus extremely poor, especially if they knew better (and most did). It's like listening to Bill Kristol about the invasion of Iraq. Why would you give any credence to someone who has proven themselves so wrong about so much?
I think we all know who is going to have the last laugh in this election. And we do plan to enjoy it.