A senator has an affair with the treasurer of his election campaign and political action committee, gives her a no-interest loan of $40,000, and pays $15,000 for her children's private school tuition. After their affair becomes public, he fires her, gives her husband a lucrative lobbying job to keep him quiet, and his parents give her $100,000 as a "gift." Yet, the Federal Election Commission found no evidence that Senator John Ensign (R-NV) did anything wrong. His lawyer claims the decision is "one step closer to the truth." Ordinarily this would be considered corruption, but in today's world we accept it with a smile.
At a time when Americans are depressed, under- and unemployed, unhoused, and their welfare is ignored by Congress, the political elite works overtime to keep citizens entertained with a strange type of twisted humor. If only this were an isolated case, but it's not. Politicians are taking tips from reality TV to aim at the lowest common denominator.
Take, for example, the new Congressional Tea Party Caucus, with 53 members, founded by newly-elected Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann. Her recent gaffes include:
Tirades against "gangster government" usurping private enterprise
Attempts to employ a born-again evangelical minister to teach Congresspeople about the Constitution
- Claims that Obama's trip to India cost taxpayers $200 million a day
Lawrence Jacobs, a political science professor from the University of Minnesota, explains that she's not just some off-the-wall kook, but speaks "in code" to a "conservative, grass-roots" base. Her crazy statements are supposed to show her show her authenticity. Do people find this embarrassing? No. It's acceptable nuttiness, given our right-wing extremists.
Republicans are not the only ones jumping on the humor bandwagon. President Obama is pushing hard for a new nuclear arms treaty. In order to get rid of nuclear weapons, he supports building new factories to build more and better nuclear bombs. The factories will produce over 80 new bombs a year and have an implausible $85 billion price tag over 20 years—despite the fact that a building in the complex (that was supposed to cost $660 million when it broke ground in 2004) wound up costing almost $6 billion—a sort of knife-in-the-ribs humor. Forget that the chosen site lies within a mile of a major earthquake fault. We need to know that the bombs will actually work when we use them, except we won't use them because we are trying to get rid of them.
Even minor politicians wield humor with behind-the-back parlor tricks. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to appoint Cathleen Black, a wealthy media executive, to run the troubled city school system. Her children attended expensive private schools and she has absolutely no experience in education. Yet, according to Bloomberg, she's eminently qualified. Her qualifications include her seat on the Coca-Cola board as it fought attempts to end childhood obesity by discouraging school children from consuming sugary drinks, and her role as the newspaper industry's chief lobbyist in upholding their right to run tobacco ads.
Bloomberg is joking when he talks about transformative change because what he really means is drastically cutting public school budgets and eliminating thousands of New York City teachers. How can he keep a straight face? When you're worth $18 billion, spend over $200 million in three terms to get elected, and give your campaign workers almost $3 million in bonuses, no one tells you that you're full of it.
Even Tea Party true believers are in on the nonsense. They were nowhere to be seen when the Supreme Court appointed Bush to the presidency instead of ordering a recount or when Bush invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, wiretapped us illegally, shipped six million jobs overseas in the interest of "globalization" or went $10 trillion in the red after arranging $2 trillion tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent. Only after Americans elected a black president did they begin foaming at the mouth and demanding that we return to the Constitution of 1779—although so far they remain mum about slavery.
Now they deny they are racist and fight back with quotes from Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King, claiming white people are the ones being discriminated against. Hundreds of thousands of online tests administered from 2000 to 2006 detected racial bias in three-quarters of white people. A more recent Public Religion Research Institute poll found that over 60 percent of white tea partiers, 56 percent of white Republicans, and 53 percent of white independents claim that they, not minorities, are being discriminated against. Minorities must find these assertions rolling-in-the-aisle funny.
Without even getting into the corporate-generated opposition to global warming, fundamentalist nonsense about "the Rapture," or the U.S. printing money to buy our bonds back from ourselves, the joke is on us. Our standard of living may be headed for the toilet, but we can still laugh, can't we?
Don Monkerud is an Aptos, California-based writer who follows cultural issues and politics and writes satire.