Editors Note: Back in the 1970s, the British comedy troupe Monty Python’s Flying Circus did a segment on British elections that, 40 years later, seems like something out of our current election news. If we can’t have a government that behaves sensibly, then the least they can do is provide us with something amusing to listen to during the campaign season. This year, we have the Tea Party candidates —  right-wing fanatics who offer some goofy ideas to an electorate that’s had about all they can stand from politicians. Maybe, if we’re lucky, in another few years, we’ll have wacky left-wing Tea Baggers, with silly proposals from the other end of the political continuum. However, in 2010, the really silly stuff is coming from the conservatives.


The Rise of the Very Silly Party

“It is not enough to be abstinent with other people, you also have to be be abstinent alone.
The Bible says that lust in your heart is committing adultery, so you can’t masturbate without lust.”
— Christine O'Donnell, explaining her opposition to onanism

“I haven’t seen a half-monkey, half-person yet.”
— Glenn Beck, explaining why evolution is a hoax

 

An election year is often referred to as “the silly season.” With 2010’s angry electorate, it’s even sillier than usual … in fact, it’s starting to verge on a Monty Python skit.

In a 2010 CBS poll, 53% of Tea Party supporters described themselves as “angry.” Their passion at the moment is throwing out the same “bums” the country was enthused about electing just two years earlier.

In 2006, Americans were so angry at the Republicans they gave Congress back to the Democrats. In 2008, they voted in Barack Obama, who ran as the agent of change. This year’s silliness results from the realization Obama has been unable, in two years, to fix a mess his predecessor needed eight years to create. Instead, he fulfilled Rush Limbaugh’s oft-stated and unpatriotic hope that the American economy would continue to flounder.

Republicans correctly surmise the electorate is silly enough to believe that — after eight years of blowing the Clinton surplus on tax cuts (largely for the rich) and setting records for deficit spending — GOP borrow-and-spenders are now born-again deficit hawks. According to the CBS poll, 57% of Tea Baggers have a favorable opinion of President Bush, despite his profligacy and his leadership on the TARP bailouts, which they claim to despise.

The GOP has convinced the public (particularly the Tea Baggers) that Obama is a socialist Muslim radical and, perhaps, not even an American. He’s the perfect foil: a Democrat spending at levels even Reagan and Bush partisans can pretend to find outrageous, who’s been unable to put a dent in a 9.6% unemployment rate. Meanwhile, demoralized Democrats see Obama as a lackluster moderate who’s failed to deliver on his electoral mandate sufficiently to arouse his own base.

Tea Party candidates profit from disillusionment and outrage, but offer few solutions beyond platitudes. They hate deficits, but reject tax increases that might actually raise revenue. They want to cut spending, but refuse to be specific, because spending reductions are as unpopular as taxes — for example, the defense budget is off the table. And they combine a strange and capricious brew of libertarianism and social conservatism.

The Monty Python comedy troupe once performed a sketch in which reporters breathlessly delivered election night results, as candidates from the Sensible Party vied with office seekers from the Silly Party. Today, almost everyone runs on a ticket that the Pythons called the “Slightly Silly Party.” Americans won’t vote for candidates brave enough to ask for sacrifices, so politicians offer us painless, empty and slightly inane alternatives.

However, on the Right, the Tea Parties have pushed many of the GOP’s slightly silly establishment candidates out of this election, providing an opportunity to vote for genuine Silly Party stalwarts. In places like Alaska, Nevada and Delaware, the Tea Baggers who’ve won the GOP primaries make the choice of Sarah Palin to be a heartbeat from the presidency look sensible.

In addition, pressure from the Far Right has forced some GOP candidates beyond just the slightly silly. Challenged in the Arizona primary by extremist ex-congressman J.D. Hayworth, John McCain, an erstwhile adult who got things done by cooperating with Democrats, proudly told a Tea Party rally he’s now a member of “ the party of hell no!”

More than 70 Tea Party candidates are running for national office (e.g., gubernatorial and congressional). Many are merely silly, but some are more like members of what Monty Python called the “Very Silly Party,” which ran candidates with names like Evelyn Stoat-Pamphlet P’taing-P’taing Carburetor Smythe-Jones. In 2010, they have names like Christine O’Donnell.

Conservatives protest that political comedian Bill Maher is trying to make Ms. O’Donnell look foolish by releasing, one-at-a-time, dozens of videotapes of O’Donnell looking foolish on his TV shows. But Maher wasn’t working her mouth like a ventriloquist’s dummy: Over a period of several years, she happily offered up the types of statements that, coming from a senator, will further lower the dignity of the Senate, a feat many would have thought impossible.

Candidates like O’Donnell make some Republicans from the slightly silly wing uncomfortable; however, the Tea Baggers are unembarrassed that their nominee has come out against masturbation (because it undermines procreation) and shows her ignorance by declaring evolution “a myth,” because we don’t see any “monkeys evolving into humans” (a position echoed by biological scholar Glenn Beck). And not since Prudence Goodfriend’s 1694 campaign for the Salem, Mass., school board, has a candidate needed to assure prospective voters that, “I’m not a witch.”

South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, considered a Tea Party “kingmaker,” is another longtime member of the Very Silly Party. Among DeMint’s far-right ambitions is a ban on unmarried, but sexually active, female schoolteachers. This seems out of character for Tea Party libertarians, who purport to want government out of people’s business. Would this be a “don’t ask, don’t tell” situation, or would investigators be stationed under the unmarried teachers’ beds?

An electorate so silly it turns out in hundreds of thousands to cheer Glenn Beck — a pundit so goofy he makes Limbaugh sound like William F. Buckley — will produce embarrassing candidates and, inevitably, silly legislators. Perhaps, two years from now, the pendulum will reverse, and we’ll go back to nominating only slightly silly candidates. But don’t hold your breath.


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