A Dark Humor Pervades US Politics
Editor’s Note: As Republicans and Tea Partiers celebrate their electoral victories, they are pushing the nation into their own reality, one that parallels the empirical world but operates by its own strange customs, curious logic and accepted “facts.”
It’s also a place of endless double standards, some so stunning that they strike writer Don Monkerud as darkly hilarious:
A U.S. senator has an affair with the treasurer of his election campaign and political action committee. He then gives her a no-interest loan of $40,000, and pays $15,000 for her children's private school tuition. After their affair becomes public, he fires her, gives her husband a lucrative lobbying job to keep him quiet, and his parents give her $100,000 as a "gift."
Yet the Federal Election Commission found no evidence that Sen. John Ensign, Republican of Nevada, did anything wrong. His lawyer claims the decision is "one step closer to the truth." Ordinarily this would be considered corruption, but in today's world we accept it with a smile.
At a time when Americans are depressed, under and unemployed, and increasingly unhoused -- while their welfare is ignored by Congress -- the political elite works overtime to keep citizens entertained with a strange type of twisted black humor.
If only this were an isolated case, but it's not.
Politicians are taking tips from reality TV to aim at the lowest common denominator -- more like a pie in the face than keen wit. Take, for example, the new Congressional Tea Party Caucus, with 53 members, founded by Rep. Michele Bachmann, a Minnesota Republican.
Her recent gaffes include: tirades against "gangster government" usurping private enterprise; attempts to employ a born-again evangelical minister to teach members of Congress about the Constitution; and claims that Obama's trip to India cost taxpayers $200 million a day.
Lawrence Jacobs, a political science professor from the University of Minnesota, explains that Bachmann is not just some off-the-wall kook, but speaks "in code" to a "conservative, grass-roots" base. Her crazy
statements merely prove her authenticity.
Do people find this embarrassing? No. It's acceptable nuttiness, given our right-wing extremists.
Republicans are not the only ones jumping on the humor bandwagon. President Obama is pushing hard for a new nuclear arms treaty. However, even as he talks about getting rid of nuclear weapons, he supports building new factories to build more and better nuclear bombs.
The factories will produce over 80 new bombs a year, costing $85 billion over 20 years and possibly much more. A single building in the complex broke ground in 2004 with a price tag of $660 million but wound up costing almost $6 billion, a sort of knife-in-the-ribs-of-the-public humor.
Forget that the chosen bomb-manufacturing site lies within a mile of a major earthquake fault. We need to know that the bombs will actually work when we use them, except we won't use them because we are trying to get rid of them. This type of black humor straight out of Dr. Strangelove.
Even minor politicians wield humor with behind-the-back parlor tricks. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York wants to appoint Cathleen Black, a wealthy media executive, to run the troubled city school system.
Her children attended expensive private schools and she has absolutely no experience in education, yet she's eminently qualified, according to Bloomberg.
Her qualifications include her seat on the Coca-Cola board, as it fought attempts to end childhood obesity by discouraging school children from consuming sugary drinks, and her role as the newspaper industry's chief lobbyist in upholding their right to encourage consumers to smoke, get cancer and die.
Bloomberg is joking when he talks about transformative change because what he really means is drastically cutting public school budgets and eliminating thousands of New York City teachers. How can he keep a straight face?
When you're worth $18 billion, spend over $200 million in three terms to get elected, and give your campaign workers almost $3 million in bonuses, no one tells you that you're full of BS.
Even Tea Party true-believers are in on the fun and games. They deny they are racists but didn’t protest when the Republican-controlled U.S. Supreme Court put George W. Bush in the White House by turning the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment on its head, to block a recount of Florida votes that would have tallied ballots thrown out disproportionately in poor and minority districts where voters had inferior voting machines.
Though insisting they are big advocates of the Constitution, the Tea Partiers also were nowhere to be seen during Bush’s eight years of office. They voiced few objections about excessive executive authority when Bush invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, wiretapped Americans without court-approved warrants, and allowed six million jobs to be shipped overseas in the interest of "globalization."
They also present themselves as deeply concerned about federal deficits, but didn’t say much while Bush was boosting the country’s debt about $4 trillion – much of it from tax cuts weighted in favor of the wealthiest Americans – to a total of $10 trillion.
It seems that only after Americans elected a black president did the Tea Partiers begin foaming at the mouth about fiscal responsibility, limits on government power, and the need to return to the Constitution of 1787 -- although so far they remain mum on its acceptance of slavery.
Despite the coincidence of Barack Obama’s election and this sudden reverence for constitutional safeguards, the Tea Partiers fight back against charges they are racist by cherry-picking quotes from Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King and claiming that white people are really the ones being discriminated against.
Hard to believe but it's revealed by a Public Religion Research Institute study of polls designed to detect prejudice. Over 60 percent of white Tea Partiers, 56 percent of white Republicans, and 50 percent of white independents claim that they, not minorities, are being discriminated against today.
U.S. minorities must find these assertions rolling-in-the-aisle funny.
Without even getting into the corporate-generated opposition to global warming and the fundamentalist nonsense about "the Rapture," the joke is on us. Our standard of living may be headed for the toilet, but we can still laugh.
It's as if Marie Antoinette said, "Give 'em humor."
Don Monkerud is an Aptos, California-based writer who follows cultural issues and politics and writes occasional satire.
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