America off the Rails

I’ve pondered how to write this post for a while, at least since the third debate of this long GOP primary season, but in all honesty, I don’t know where to begin. We’ve seen one ludicrous statement after another:

April, 2011: Why did it take him two and a half years if it was no story? I made the assumption, and I think a lot of Americans did, there must be something that he wants to hide, there must be something on his birth certificate he doesn’t want people to know. If it was an issue, why wouldn’t you just put the issue away? –Rick Santorum, speaking about the President’s birth certificate

June 7, 2011:  I am only going to allow small bills — three pages. You’ll have time to read that one over the dinner table. –Herman Cain

August, 2011: I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’ Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we’ve got to rein in the spending. –Michele Bachmann

December 10, 2011: Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits for working and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash,’ unless it’s illegal. –Newt Gingrich

Taken together, these comments paint a terrifying picture of the GOP, in terms of competence, constitutional knowledge (Rick Perry has called for a constitutional amendment to ensure that schoolchildren can pray in school if they want to, which they already have the right to do), and in their incessant fear-mongering. The terrorists are coming for us, along with undocumented workers, queer people, socialists, anyone in a union, poor children, and so on, all led by the secret Muslim president who was really born in Africa. It’s a narrative that makes no sense. It’s filled with contradictions, easy-to-find inaccuracies,  pseudo-science, and fuzzy logic, but it’s been presented so frantically to the nation that this story has taken on a life of its own. Maybe I could even call it the animated corpse of political campaigning.

I wrote for Bitch Magazine’s blog last year, during the mid-term elections of 2010, that I was more than tired of hearing people on the progressive left call people like Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle “crazy.” It was levied against Sarah Palin, after all, and now it’s cast against Michele Bachmann. Calling these women crazy is the weakest argument one could make against them, and in addition it’s an offensive critique. But I almost understand where it comes from–with such extreme arguments made by Republicans about what they see as the flaws of the Obama Administration and the track the nation is on, there is less and less space open for principled criticism. However, we need to locate the remaining air pockets of rigorous thought and make our case from there.

One of the surprises of this primary season has been the Occupy Wall Street movement and the systematic (and supposedly sudden) eviction response from law enforcement at OWS protests around the country. If Scott Walker gave Wisconsin residents a reason to band together in defense of unions, then OWS has been a countrywide reenactment of liberals banding together to protect their rights. And in the midst of these crackdowns against protesters came the pepper-spraying of University of California at Davis students. Suddenly the pushback from police had a face, and a new source of satire.

pepper spraying at davisThe original photo showed a startling kind of laissez-faire attitude on the part of the sprayer:

And then, there was a response from the new world of Photoshop. He’d been turned into a meme.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

pepper spray cop painting

pepper spray cop washington

pepper spray cop farm painting

pepper spray cop dora

pepper spray cop lego

I laughed at many of these. And I think there’s a modicum of power in breaking down this moment on one campus in the midst of the vitriol, misinformation, and extremism we’ve been subject to since President Obama took office. At some point, doesn’t the stream of rhetoric from the right break down; as people struggle to find jobs, keep their houses, hold on to their benefits packages, and educate their children, do they ever lose patience for the lack of activity on Capitol Hill? When is enough, enough?

Last spring we watched regimes in the Middle East and Africa fall after decades of repression and authoritarian rule, and many of the governments that caved in to protests had been, at one point or another, supported by the United States. Many pundits decried the violence against non-violent citizens barbaric, testimony to the crudeness of those governments. So what do we make of our national experience with the Occupy Wall Street movement? And why do we find it easier to laugh at repression and the cockamamie ideas presented to us during this GOP primary season, instead of changing the terms of the debate?

On FoxNews last week, some commentators were shocked that the latest polling shows Barack Obama way ahead of any GOP nominee currently running for office. When they’ve classified pizza as vegetables, offered to roll back child labor laws, thrown guest workers out of their states only to have nobody show up to pick the crops at harvest time, spent millions drug testing welfare recipients only to find 2% positive results, attempted to ban contraception, restricted voting rights, and eliminated collective bargaining for teachers and fire fighters, why would they be surprised to find that the majority of Americans don’t want to vote for their party?

This is the way empire ends, or so I wonder.

 

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Categories: Pop Culture

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