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The Politics of Rage

If you need a politician to advise you about masturbation, this Delaware tea person is ready.

The primaries are over, at last. The nominees for Senate, House and governor are set. The general election will take place in about six weeks, November 2nd. To a lot of the media this is a big whoop-de-doo, but to most normal folks it’s more like a big whoop.

(Note to Dutchmen and other foreigners: a “big whoop” isn’t one.)

This is not to say it won’t be an important election; it will be, perhaps as important as 2008. But America’s in the midst of a collective funk, and the only people excited about voting are right-wing extremists, who’ve convinced themselves they have a chance to bring back Jesus, John Birch and new episodes of “Gunsmoke.”

I call it the politics of rage. “We want our country back!”

But as I look around me, Indiana’s still where it always was; Illinois’s right next door, with Michigan on top of us, Ohio to the east and Kentucky down south with all the hills and hollers.

I think the tea partiers are way too optimistic. A new poll by The New York Times shows that Americans’ view of the movement skews a bit negative, with 29% unfavorable to 23% favorable, while the majority hasn’t figured it out yet or isn’t even paying attention.

This is not what I’d call a wildfire with only six weeks left to go – and they’ve been at it for over a year now, guns, Hitler and Stalin images at the ready.

Meanwhile the media-ocracy is busy proclaiming that this is a Republican year, with takeovers of one or both houses of Congress routinely predicted. The economy’s bad, Obama is weak, the Democrats are clueless, and look at all this tea party enthusiasm!

No one can predict the future, but I suspect there are surprises yet to come. My sense is that the results will be mixed, with most races turning on local issues and personalities, not an outburst of national fervor one way or the other.

This election may not be “a referendum on Obama.” I doubt it will be a referendum on much of anything, except whether Nevada goes for unpopular Harry Reid, unpopular Sharron Angle or very popular “none of the above.”

If “none of these candidates” wins, Reid’s likely to be re-elected, because Nevada throws the election to the next-highest vote-getter.

This isn’t Britain or the rest of Europe; we don’t vote for parties here, we vote for candidates. There will be 435 local elections for the House of Representatives, plus a third of the Senate and 37 governors.

The country as a whole is likely to get redder, but I bet we’re still purple in the end.

Still, these are exciting times for political junkies; I’ve never seen a dynamic like this one. The closest analogy I can see is the presidential election of 1980, when Jimmy Carter was weak and had a strong opponent in Ronald Reagan.

But lemme tell ya, these tea people are nothing like Ronald Reagan. He was a two-term governor of California, the biggest state; he wasn’t an unknown who came out of nowhere, he was a movie star and an experienced politician. He was handsome and genial; his ideas were backward but people liked him – and they did want to register their disapproval of the incumbent. He looked like a president, acted like one and people voted for him. He was cynical, but he was also skilled, and he took the White House despite all the power of the presidency to prevent it.

These tea people may have some ideological affinity for him, but they are nothing like him. He was a star; these folks wouldn’t make it as extras on “Bedtime for Bonzo.”

• Sharron Angle in Nevada threatens that if the tea partiers don’t get their way, “a Second Amendment remedy” may be necessary – in other words, we’ll shoot people. Let’s have armed insurrection.

• Christine O’Donnell, the anti-Gay bigot/Senate candidate in Delaware, used to make anti-masturbation videos for Jesus and MTV. She doesn’t pay her taxes, has no real income, pays her living expenses from campaign contributions, claimed she graduated from college 17 years ago when it was only last month, and even lies about how well she did in the last election. There is no Google in Christine’s world.

• Carl Paladino, the new Republican nominee for governor of New York, likes to send racist and pornographic e-mails to his friends. He threatens to take a “baseball bat” to Albany, the state capital.

• Rand Paul in Kentucky thinks the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a bad idea because the Federal government “intruded” on the right of business owners to refuse service to African-Americans. That’s not the “free enterprise system” he’s for!

They’re all like this. Every one nuttier than the last.

Abolish Social Security! That’s sure a winner politically.

Abolish unemployment insurance! Make jobless people and their kids starve to death, that will surely pick up the economy.

Make welfare recipients go to prison – and while they’re there, make them listen to lectures about personal hygiene!

Secure the borders! – As if illegal immigrants don’t contribute billions to the economy.

I live in a small town, in a depopulating rural area. Mexicans are visible and audible here, though there aren’t very many of them. Considering that this town was all-White when I grew up, even a few people of different color and nationality would be visible. But they rent houses and apartments and work jobs and start businesses – and best of all, we still have a grocery store. The four nearest towns have all lost their grocery stores. Immigrants provide population stability in my hometown! They’re the difference in whether I can buy a can of peas or not.

But to the enraged, they represent the “others.” Life isn’t what it used to be, back in the days of “Gunsmoke.” Back when General Motors was a big business; back when Wall Street wasn’t robbing everyone blind; back when the Soviet Union was a constant threat; back when Jesus reigned supreme; back when the president was always White.

The tea partiers have won Republican primaries in state after state – which mostly proves the complete political bankruptcy of the Republican Party. It hasn’t taken much for the new folks to muscle in.

Sorry, Mitch McConnell, being the Party of No gets you no-where.

After Obama shellacked John McCain, and the GOP realized how rudderless it was, Just Saying No was the only alternative. As a strategy it’s empty, but as a short-term tactic it may prove successful, especially given Obama’s squandering of every political advantage he ever had.

He reminds me of the newly-ousted mayor of Washington, D.C., Adrian Fenty, hailed as a star four years ago, and with a considerable record of accomplishment he thought would see him through to re-election.

The chairman of the City Council trounced him. Fenty made a series of classic mistakes (hubris, cronyism, remoteness) and now he’s out on his behind. Maybe this will happen to Obama in 2012; it happened to Carter, when faced with a very talented opponent.

Obama’s best hope is that… there aren’t any talented opponents. Newt Gingrich? One sex scandal after another, now reduced to promoting anti-Muslim paranoia. Sarah Palin? Too dumb to read a magazine – and too smart to leave TV Land, where she’s making big bucks. Mitt Romney? Mike Huckabee? Mitch Daniels of Indiana?

Lou Dobbs? Bill O’Reilly? Glenn Beck? Jon Stewart can take down every one of them.

Meghan McCain? Lightweight. Dick Cheney’s daughter? Been there, heard that. Marco Rubio, when Bobby Jindal didn’t exactly work out?

I fault this president nearly every step of the way. I worked my ass off for him and he didn’t deserve it. I saw it when he failed to take down Hillary Clinton in debate prior to the Texas and Ohio primaries in 2008; she gave him the perfect opening and he wouldn’t walk through it.

If you can’t demolish an opponent you’re not worthy to be president of the United States – and he can’t, so he isn’t. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, anyone? “I promise to end the war in Iraq and shut down Guantanamo.” Hasn’t done it. Never will.

Can’t defend his health care bill, so neither can any other Democrat on the ballot. He’ll never say it, but let me write his speech for him, the one he’s too timid to say: “Some people call it socialized medicine; some people say they don’t want it. I guess they liked it when the insurance company could cut you off for a pre-existing condition. I guess they liked it when the insurance company could deny you a treatment that would save your life. I guess they liked it when 45 million Americans couldn’t get health insurance – and the rest of us had to pay for it with higher premiums to cover the ER’s losses, or the uninsured had to go bankrupt. So now it’s all about ‘socialized medicine.’ Well, let me tell you how the alternative works. Here’s how capitalized health care works. If you’ve got the capital, you get the health care. If you don’t have the capital, you’re stone out of luck.”

If Obama doesn’t have the balls to tell the truth – and he doesn’t – why should I drive three blocks to my precinct?

Blue Dog Democrats are running away from him as fast as they can get. Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-South Bend) is buying ads attacking Nancy Pelosi, his own Democratic Speaker of the House.

Meanwhile Obama’s surrounded himself with every Goldman Sachs exec he can find. The man’s not just tone-deaf, he’s stuffed his head with earplugs.

I like him as a person but I have no reason to vote this year. I live in a Democratic district; my Congressman is one of the “ten most corrupt members of Congress,” according to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

His opponent, a perennial landslide loser, isn’t worth listening to. So I have no reason to vote for Congress.

The Senate? The Democratic nominee, Brad Ellsworth, is an anti-Gay, anti-abortion, anti-Obama Blue Dog. He’s slightly better than his Republican lobbyist opponent, but not by much; what if it rains on Election Day?

The Indiana Legislature is a perennial hotbed politically, with Republicans controlling the Senate and Democrats barely in charge of the House; but I don’t even know who the current candidate is. The last two Assembly races here were very close, with my hometown sheriff running on the D side; but now he’s the U.S. Marshal (Matt Dillon!) for Northern Indiana and his replacement is a non-entity. Here 2010 is a census year, a reapportionment year, with control of the legislature and the Congressional delegation very much up for grabs, and whoever the Democratic candidate is he’s a ghost, invisible. Why should I vote?

Despite my disillusionment, I expect to turn out; I know the county assessor, a Democrat and former social studies teacher. I interviewed him once and I think he’s probably honest. I also favor the Democratic nominee for county prosecutor, because he’s not the ex-liquor store owner who got into a bar fight at 2 a.m. this spring in a nearby town. This is a Republican county, but Democrats do win locally here (more than when I was a kid), and if I have to I’ll grab an umbrella and punch a computer card for Lester, the assessor, and maybe the mom of the kid who used to mow my yard, who’s also running for a courthouse job. She turned out a revolving-door Republican this spring and, y’know, the kid mowed my yard more or less.

Not exactly a referendum on Obama, is it.

Then there’s Brad Ellsworth, the former sheriff in Evansville, two-term Congressman/Blue Dog trying, but poorly, to succeed the awful U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh (who just like George W. Bush thought he was smarter than his daddy; in this case Birch Bayh, an actual liberal). Why vote for Ellsworth? There’s one thing only in his bio that speaks to me. It’s the only good thing about him I know.

Years ago he was a young deputy sheriff, and there was a proposal before the Vanderburgh County Commission to buy bulletproof vests, protective gear. The Democrats on the commission were in favor of spending the money, but the Republicans balked; $40,000? How can we justify this to the taxpayers (when we’re totally committed to spending nothing extra ever, so we can get re-elected by proving we never raised taxes)?

When the local-yokel Republicans weren’t willing to spend a pittance to save the lives of the officers who protected them 24/7/365, non-political Brad Ellsworth became a Democrat.

I wish he’d remember that incident more often; I wish he’d remember it every day, because the middle class is getting hammered in this economy, and the poor (including cops) are getting wiped out.

The real reason for the tea people’s rage isn’t the end of the Cold War or the demise of James Arness; it isn’t the arrival of Muslims and Hindus and Mexicans and Gay people; it isn’t that we have a half-Black president and a watered-down health care plan when it takes effect five years from now.

It is that the America they knew is not the America we’re becoming – and they have every right to feel concerned and even angry. But they’ve been led by commercial interests (Goldman Sachs, Rupert Murdoch, Republican politicians) to target the wrong folks.

They should have taken their pitchforks to Wall Street. (I’m still a bit surprised that they did not. The last time this happened, someone tried to blow up J.P. Morgan’s Bank, and even killed a couple of folks.)

Instead “We’ve got a socialist in the White House.” No, we’ve got an idiot in the neighborhood, who will not survive scrutiny by the voters.

No one needs a senator to advise them about masturbation. You want “the land of the free”? Shut the damn door.

House: Republican. Senate: Democratic. President: Re-elected.

Democrats: wounded. Republicans: collapsing. Extremists: marginal. Common sense: modest but still in control.++

Brad Ellsworth, back when he stood for something.