A brief rundown of the last few days worth of news suggests that we may be at a tipping point. I'm not talking about climate change, or energy dependence, or the potential for total economic collapse based on some new scheme cooked up by the world's preeminent institutional gamblers. No, I'm talking about the political stupidity index, that informal measure of just how stupid our supposed "political" discourse is, how likely it is to get worse, and how much it might make the average not-entirely-dimwitted human want to gouge their own eyes out rather than watch one more moment of what supposedly is an earnest discussion as to what the future of the republic ought to be like, according to the best and brightest minds that have bothered to present themselves.
First off: the birthers. Donald Trump, who seems to be back in the news primarily because—well, I have no idea why, actually. Because that's what passes for a serious voice in Republicanism these days? Because Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and the rest have left a void that only an equally asinine voice could fill? Then there's Pete Hoekstra and his new proposed department of ferreting out secret Kenyans, which we will once again note for the record only came up the moment someone with a skin tone darker than "eggshell" got elected to the post. This seems to part of an ongoing pattern marking birtherism as an Actual Thing that will be running through the election.
Second: Fox News producing an anti-Obama ad, ominous music and grainy footage included, and passing it off as a news segment. This would be a touch more blatant than even the shameless promoters of something called a "tea party" had previously copped to—but let's face it, only a touch. Now Fox News executives are backpedaling, blaming the help, and generally mumbling about how, no no no, they would never have done such a thing if it had been up to them. You will note that this much the same argument Romney uses to distance himself from Donald Trump while simultaneously giving him a big ol' millionaire to millionaire hug: Hey, I may be putting the guy on television, but I can't be responsible for all that crap he says when he gets there. In any event, however, Fox News is now in the position of claiming that no matter how obviously in the tank their entire network is, they would never be that in the tank, except when they just were, and all of the other reporters and pundits in Washington are going to accept this answer, are going to continue to treat Fox News as "news" as opposed to a ridiculous, over-the-top propaganda effort, and are going to blithely ignore the whole part about having a newsroom culture that accidentally produces these things because both the on-air and off-air staff just naturally assume it's a reasonable thing to do. Screw you, jourmalisms!
It's only May, but the voter purges of people with suspiciously ethnic-sounding names are already underway. It's only May, but we're already being subjected to members of the Worst Administration In Modern American History telling us what a fine job Mitt Romney would do, and how much they like him (currently, this humiliating and thankless task is being performed by Bush Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in what for Rice probably does not even register in the top twenty most embarrassing moments of her post-2000 career.) We're being treated to stories about how the SuperPACs (thank you, Supreme Court, for recognizing that democracy is worthless unless it can be properly bought) will be spending approximately one metric crap-ton of cash on anti-Obama ads this cycle—and that's in addition to Fox News, which does the same goddamn thing for free.
So I think we need a timeout. I think all the politicians and pundits, all the hacks and flacks and hangers-on, need to stop where they are, put themselves in a convenient corner somewhere, and have a little quiet time. The campaign has been momentary paused due to unnecessary asininity, we will say. Sorry: you are too stupid to continue. Please sit there until you are ready to be smarter. (You, the racists over there? You're free to just shut up forever, thank you very much. I promise we'll call you if we ever want to hear from you again.)
I don't know what I want in a president. Frankly, I never have high hopes in that department. But the one thing I do know is that I'd rather not have a flagrant, egregious liar in that position, and for all of the jokes about Mitt Romney being out of touch, the far more prominent aspect of his personality is his insistence on flat-out lying about things, all the time, in any subject. Listening to Mitt speak, you would think that the economy was sunshine and rainbows until Barack Obama came to town, at which point it all went to hell because Obama didn't properly care for George W. Bush's invisible unicorn farm. A near-depression? Christ, that doesn't sound like anything that would have happened. (Mitt could ask his economic advisers about that one, since many of them were George W. Bush's economic advisers and had their hands on the wheel of the free markets during the exact moments that car ended up in a ditch, but that would be hard, and none of those people want to talk about it any more.)
I do know, however, that if it's only May and already the biggest din among Republicans is over who can be the most racist without actually getting called out on it, and over which state can screw over more people, and Mitt Romney's personal $10,000 bet with himself over just how big a goddamn liar he gets to be before anyone on the campaign trail scratches their chin, phones their editor and says "you know what, this guy is a huge goddamn liar"—if we're already seeing Fox News cut together actual anti-Obama ads themselves, rather than wait for Karl Rove and the SuperPACs to send them on over—no, if it's already May and we still have to treat Donald Trump, international buffoon, as a legitimate political figure for some reason—no. No, I call foul on that play. Ten yard penalty, and all involved parties have to apologize to their mothers.
During the Bush years, I was fairly confident that no matter how far down the road to hell we might have gone on any individual topic, there would be an end point involved eventually. Bush, I thought, would definitely be the dumbest president of my lifetime. The part about deregulation and shady banking causing a worldwide economic collapse, well that was no fun, but I thought it might at least be a decade or two before we tried the same thing again. And Congress? Could we really do worse than the Congresses of the 1990's and 2000's, horrible, rancid, small-minded little things whose only joy in life came when investigating stories about (other people's) penises?
I don't think any of us think such thoughts anymore. I'm not sure we expected that, in the wake of economic catastrophe, we would decide to saddle ourselves with a Congress so profoundly inept that it is a constant struggle to even keep the damn functions of government running. I think many of us found ourselves a bit surprised at how the architects of what everyone was calling the "worst economic downturn since the Great Depression" (TM, patent pending, apparently) would barely need even six months to declare themselves redeemed and start insisting on, well, the same shit that they peddled the last time around. And in the cold, dead eyes of Michele Bachmann and the perpetually pissed off glare of Rick Santorum, I learned that yes, oh yes—we could indeed have a president who was considerably more dumb than George W. Bush, destroyer of budgets and economies, defender of the doctrine of preemptive, convenient war, perpetual pawn in everyone else's long game. It would be easy. We could have an outright moron, a cold hearted sociopath, a conspiracy theorist as president Just. Like. That.
Well, you win, Washington. I'm depressed now. Partisanship is one thing, but I find myself pining for the day when mere partisanship was the story of a campaign. Oh, to only have partisan bickering, instead of outright conspiracy theories peddled by presidential campaigns, and news organizations with no actual interest in news, and entire campaigns financed primarily by one or two wealthy men, and entire elections bought by whichever industries have the most to gain or lose in their outcomes! Holy hell, how nice it would be if we were merely discussing whether or not to let senior citizens die on the streets because that whole medical insurance business was just too difficult a concept for us as a nation to wrap our minds around, or merely whether or not the Department of Education, that unforgiven scourge of segregationists everywhere, ought to be abolished so that our children can properly fight to the death over who ought to get an education and who should have thought of things like that sooner, before they got themselves born into the wrong neighborhoods. Those were the days!
Donald Trump in politics has the same effect on me that Donald Trump on television had. Namely: Is this really the best we can do? Such advances in civilization, such shiny toys, and this is the dreck we're stuck with? Willingly? Did we lose a fucking bet, or what?
Thank you, 2012 election cycle, for re-teaching me that thing I remember every two years or so, only to forget again. Yes, our politics can get worse. Yes, the politicians can get dumber, and the pundits less sincere, and the so-called experts more crass. Everyone involved seems to look on it as a challenge. I swear, at the very least, can we send them for a timeout? Just a day or two, to give them time to think about what they have done?
Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2011:
Another day, another opportunity for the media to play the part of uncritical stenographer for Sarah "I love that smell of the emissions!" Palin.
This weekend, Sarah crashed the Rolling Thunder rally in DC to launch her "One Nation" bus tour, described on her website as:
[P]art of our new campaign to educate and energize Americans about our nation's founding principles, in order to promote the Fundamental Restoration of America.
The media is, however, dutifully reporting Palin's bus tour as a "family vacation."