The Rally to Restore Sanity, and Congressional elections
The image is one taken from the Marvel/Disney Mashups series and is available here. I thought it appropriate to what is being billed as the coming Republican win in the American congressional elections.
America being the sort of republic it is, it has often been difficult for entertainers to avoid being dragged into politics. Properly speaking, politics is the business of everyone in America, after all. Charlie Chaplin was an enemy of the FBI without knowing it, Bob Hope rallied troops in the Vietnam war, P.T.Barnum became a state representative in Connecticut, and Mort Sahl campaigned for what he believed to be necessary disclosure in the first Kennedy assassination. Barnum, as ever, is interesting on the point; he sought election after bankruptcy, humiliation, and lawsuits, presumably on the basis that things couldn't really get much worse so he might as well give it a go.
So the waters in which Steven Colbert and Jon Stewart are now sailing are not, really, virgin territory. You don't have to be staring at the correxit foam on the waters of the gulf to know that currents change, though. The spirit of vicious dispute and rancour which the media must now feed on to make money, and which various interests depend upon, is as bad as at any time in the nineteenth-century republic. I read what Stewart said about a country that could go to the moon, heal itself, and get to work on time with the beginnings of a lump in my throat, but he and his colleagues will now face a fairly systemic assault.
Stewart has already proved adept at taking down media loudmouths like Jim Cramer. Colbert's performance before George Bush at the WHCA dinner a few years ago was one of the all-time demonstrations of cojones. But, well...the interests and attitudes unleashed by recession, the cusp of decline, and the daily grind of debt, inequality, and cultural narcissism have poisoned America and some of that is heading comedy central's way.
Stewart and Colbert are plenty tough, however, and anyway, many in the beltway elites currently disguised as pitchfork-wielding peasants on Fox will have discounted their effect, so keen are they to anticipate a 'Mondale wave' like in 1982. I have to say, I am having a little trouble seeing it, and remain to be convinced.
What seems to be going to happen is that most Democrats are going to get a well-deserved kicking for being a shower in the legislature during a horrible economic time.
Because that simple fact does not play into dramatised and political agendas, the result will have to be spun into some sort of Aaron Sorkin style referendum on Barack Obama's centrist presidency. That in turn will waste time that the United States does not have, and unless someone seizes the initiative, and does something to concentrate minds, Rome's fiddles will drown out the sound of the burning.
On a more prosaic political note, the rally may comfort liberals, but it should also provide people with time to reflect on an important point. Jimmy Carter was derailed by a Democrat Congress in 1977-8 and fatally wounded by a Democrat challenger in 1980; Bill Clinton was almost destroyed by congressional Democratic failures in 1994; and things started to come apart for Lyndon Johnson in 1966, when a Democrat congress was dismissed following a year of spending and reforming without explaining, after the great civil rights achievement. That Nancy Pelosi has spent a part of the past couple of years attempting to shut down her nominal deputy, Steny Hoyer, rather than attempting to squeeze a few more districts into the Democrat column, speaks volumes about the sort of leader that party throws up in parliamentary assemblies.
Then again, other things got done, and maybe he deserved it. Congress is a complicated and devious sort of a place, and its values seep into both parties intimately, but the Democrats more because they are so much more of a 'court' than a 'country' party, except in their imaginations. I remember wading through the antebellum records of the house on a research trip to Washington years ago, and finding multiple references to 'overindulgence in fruit' that kept Senators and Congressmen from voting. It wasn't that the food was particularly bitter or poisonous, though it may have been in a town that is, for all intents and purposes, still a sort of swamp. The phrase was just an ordinary, standard lie. Petroleum Naseby and Plunkitt of Tammany Hall would have understood immediately. Those lies are in the air over there. Even monks use euphemisms in DC, in my experience.
The congressional Democratic party, out of which Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton emerged last year, is an albatross for Democratic presidents when in power, and, historically, is terribly bad at connecting with the electorate and the media. Losing it, especially if the loss is accompanied by narrowly holding on in one or two unexpected places (for the narrative), may not do Obama 2012 too much harm at all. Something else will have to, from the right's point of view. That's why I expect some republican-funded anti-Obama effort to push for a 2012 Democrat nomination fight to get going next Thursday. Daft liberals who'd be up for it abound. Sometimes, I think the Democrats should just let Joan Walsh go around punching faces and stabbing kidneys until people are quiet.
My other reflection is that this latest series of congressional elections are the first, post Citizens United. That case allowed semi-anonymous rich people and corporations to attempt to buy elections, and to provide cover for their chosen candidates, as well as allowing unions and liberal groups to do the same. This has been going on for a while--the names Scaife, Bloomberg and Soros spring to mind, but it seems to have somehow been validated as a thing that can show its face in the light of day. Rich people are attempting to buy the republic on their own terms.
If very wealthy candidates are rejected in California, if Crist plus Meeks make a majority in Florida, and if Democrats win in a few districts in places like New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, West Virginia or Kentucky, despite the onslaught, then issues and voter perceptions, and delivery of promises will have mattered more than ads and cash. That's how it ought to be, and a hopeful sign for the future.
It's enough to raise a laugh or two all the way down the National Mall....
UPDATE: Martin in the Margins has his own ideas about all of this on his own site, and is far less happy with the rally, probably because he is a liberal person.