September 16, 2008

Summary of My Discontent - Battle of the presidential sitcoms

Here’s something to ponder while figuring out how to pay for your two new bouncing babies, Fannie and Freddie: Is America now a socialist country? And now that neocons have brought collapse — and, consequently, impending buyout — to the housing market (and possibly airlines and auto companies), does it matter? The Limbaugh crowd has always railed against liberals for fostering socialism. Funny how their own right-wing extremism has done it instead. 

But that won’t fit into a sound bite, so the presidential campaigns have moved into what political scientists refer to as the “fucktarded” phase. After John McCain and Barack Obama spent months detailing their positions on the economy, the environment, Iraq, healthcare and energy, America is now fully informed about Project Runway, the ZOOperstars and the location and content of all Rihanna’s tattoos. 

So now we’re in the support-the-troops, obsess-about-homosexuality, hug-yer-guns portion of the proceedings. You know, the Torture Is Cool Month that comes during Science Is Stupid Week. The right-wing PR machine — most audibly through the voice of Sarah Palin — is again using the word “elite” to attack Democrats. “Elite” used to mean “rich and powerful,” but has come to mean “educated,” especially now that the Republican candidate owns 10 homes and campaigns in $520 Salvatore Ferragamo calfskin loafers. (Fun drinking game: Whenever Palin says “elite,” throw back a shot of Courvoisier, toss your copy of “The Origin of Species” at the TV and shout: “You mean ‘smart people,’ right?”)

Even with its new meaning, “elite” is effective as a slur because people who aren’t rich know they aren’t rich but people who aren’t smart don’t know they aren’t smart. I, for example, have no idea how stupid I am, despite a wealth of evidence. While I occasionally wish I had a deeper understanding of economic theory, I rarely think, “Gee, I wish I had the awesome brainpower of Bob in Finance.” Americans wish they had Bill Gates’ money, not his aptitude. 

So for these next six weeks, the election is a battle of competing sitcoms. The Obamas, of course, have Huxtable star power. America is looking forward to the episode in season three when President Heathcliff joins the PTA and Rudy learns a valuable lesson about sharing. Plus, they’ve got that kooky uncle Biden who might just say something outlandish when he’s not too busy providing healthcare for all Americans. To keep the Nielsens high, Obama himself occasionally makes outrageous, unsubstantiated claims.*

By comparison, the Republican ticket seems like a hastily-thrown-together “Married With Children” spinoff starring a mildly Alzheimer’s-ish Jerry Stiller and a hell-raisin’ Gretchen Wilson, who randomly breaks into songs about goin’ muddin’ in the four-wheeler and drunk-dialing Bill Clinton. Hijinks ensue in episode one, when Sarah guns down a renegade moose that somehow ended up in the halls of Congress. It’s got mid-season cancellation written all over it. 

Even more problematic for McCain is that whacky neighbor who won’t go away: George W. Bush. Just as Al Gore couldn’t escape the imposing reach of Bill Clinton’s penis, McCain-Palin cannot plausibly campaign on a platform of change. The Republicans are so mixed up in their own rhetoric even a Fox News viewer could spot it. When a Republican says “change,” voters think, “what I will soon be begging for in the streets, thanks to Republicans.”

So, socialism’s back and it’s coming to a mortgage banker near you. But it’s really nothing new. Ever since the frontier liniment salesman sold his first case of snake oil, forcing the first reformer to go all Kennedy on his ass, the American experiment has been a tug of war between capitalism and socialism, and the precision with which our leaders manage it determines whether they’re attractive, high-minded, pleasant-smelling liberals or those other ones. 

Sure, it’s more complicated than that. There are plenty of gray areas in the economy, but those were just invented to give nerds like Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson something to do in college while everybody else was partying. So here’s a handy economic guide to the past eight years for the voter-on-the-go: Ham-fisted Republican response to terror = $3 trillion Iraq War = financial ruin = housing, energy and jobs crises (felt worst in the small towns that consistently vote Republican) = government bailouts = socialism. Filmed in front of a studio audience. 


*For instance, in response to Palin’s lies at the recent Republican convention, Obama said, “The American people aren’t stupid.”