Levi Johnson made a recent appearance on Lawrence O'Donnell's show. Responding to a list of questions asked of his almost mother-in-law during the 2008 campaign, he grinned his way through a series of non-responses, proving himself to be a most affable idiot, while making his almost MIL look intelligent by comparison -- no small accomplishment. Not since Jethro Bodine stomped the halls of a Beverly Hills mansion has such an engaging lunkhead been on the public scene. But at least he's only running for mayor of Wasilla, not Vice President or (insert prayer to God of your choice) President.
And at least Levi didn't take himself seriously. He knew his limitations. Unlike the series of thugs, dingbats, morons, and lunatics who have become the modern face of the GOP. They've certainly come a long way: From "I am not a crook" to "I am not a witch." There's "social security is unconstitutional" Joe Miller, and his private security goons "arresting" a blogger. Headless Sharron "Funny, you don't look Hispanic" Angle with her Second Amendment remedies. Spiritual dilettante and professional nincompoop Christine O'Donnell. Pornmeister/gay-hater Carl Palladino. And behind them all, the Tea Party Queen of Hearts -- Sarah Palin. And apparently God's behind all of them. O'Donnell says God is guiding her campaign. God's working on Angle's campaign. God's opening doors for Sarah Palin. Apparently, God's got a real hard-on for stupid white women.
We've always had a fringe element in politics: crooks, poseurs, dopes, powermongers. For every Ted Kennedy or Barbara Jordan, there's been a Joe Wilson, Joe Miller, or Joe McCarthy. But despite whatever power they may have amassed, they've never constituted an entire movement. Until now. But that's because of the way we tend to think in this country, which amounts to reducing every argument, no matter how subtle, to basic black and white. More often than not, we have no idea what we're for; but we know damn well what we're against. And since life is never perfect, there's always something to be against. Clean cut Jimmy Carter was a breath of fresh air after Watergate. Reagan was a reaction to Carter inflation and malaise, along with the fact that we weren't feeling fabulous enough so we wanted someone to blow air up our skirts. Obama was a reaction to Bush incompetence and a tanking economy. Right doesn't work, go left. Left lands you in a ditch, or doesn't pull you out fast enough, go right. And that's how we got the Tea Party. We're unhappy. Things aren't getting better fast enough. We feel we've been mislead. Lied to. We feel we've been cheated on 'cause all that hope and change didn't come fast enough. So, we go out and find someone new. The Tea Party is America's revenge fuck. And now we're poised to elect some of the dumbest, nastiest, meanest people we can find, forgetting to consider for even a moment that it was mean, greedy, and stupid that put us in this mess, so why would mean, greedy, and stupid take us out?
Unfortunately, this administration has been complicit in the rise of this "movement." They have always had a problem with optics. From the moment they took office, and the systematic demonizing of the President and his policies rang out from every GOP corner, they just let it happen. They allowed the Republicans to define them, in the most idiotic ways, and they didn't slap them back, perhaps thinking that governing was more important than politics. But this is just another version of black and white thinking. Governing and politics are inextricably connected. What is true becomes untrue if people can be made to think it's untrue. Health care reform can become "death panels." Not renewing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy can become "tax increases for everyone." To allow one side to take health insurance reform and turn it into a negative called "Obamacare" is criminal enough. But what is even more criminal is that no one stood up and even tried to slap them back by asking: which part don't you like: the Obama part or the care part? The optics affect how people think. And how people think, or can be lead to think, translates to how they vote. And how they vote changes the balance of power and the ability to govern. Dick Armey has done a masterful PR job. And the administration has allowed it to happen.
But for all the Annie Oakley tough chick talk about "momma grizzlies," "growing a pair," "putting on man pants," and "manning up," the tea party chicks are cowards. They're playing it safe by only playing to the base, afraid to come out from behind mommy's skirt and engage in actual dialogue on a Sunday morning talk show where legitimate non-Fox reporters may ask substantive questions and not tolerate answers that reek of pre-rehearsed, pre-fab bullshit. But part of that problem is that Democrats allow this silly rhetoric to go unchallenged. When Sharron Angle hit Senator Reid with her latest "man up" crack, he allowed this inane, schoolyard taunt to linger in the air. This is why democrats get so pissed off. Their representatives don't know how to fight. They allowed the Willie Horton ads. Swift-boating. The despicable campaign against Max Cleland in Georgia. This kind of nonsense cannot go unchallenged. If I were Harry Reid, my response would have been the following:
Angle: "Man up, Harry Reid."
Reid: "No. How about "smarten up" Ms. Angle. We have serious problems in this state, and in this country, that need to be dealt with by serious people who have an understanding of the subtleties involved. I have spent years in the senate working with people on both sides of the aisle to pass important legislation. I understand how the senate works. Eight years of venal stupidity put our economy on the brink of another great depression. It was averted, and the economy is turning around. Only a child looks at that problem and whines about the lack of instant gratification. In government, experience and intelligence are virtues. And the litany of inane comments that have come out of your mouth clearly demonstrate that you have neither, which render you uniquely unqualified to be a member of the United States Senate."
That's what I would have said. It would have shown balls. It would have shown character. It would have shut this moron the fuck up. It would have been picked up in the media. It would have raised Reid's stock and tipped the scale in a crucial election. But that's not what happened.
When Al Franken was about to take his Senate seat, "global warming's not real, God is still in control of the world" Senator James Inhofe remarked: "Well, it looks like we're getting the clown." And all I could think of at the time was that if the subject is "clowns in the senate" then Franken's going to have some pretty big shoes to fill. Based on how the midterms are shaping up, they'd better hire a fleet of tiny cars 'cause the circus may be coming to town.