Friday, October 23, 2015

Ben Carson, Iowa Nice, and Bob Roberts

Pat freakin' Robertson came in a strong 2nd place in the 1988 Iowa caucus. Ben Carson just might take it in 2016.

The political world gets increasingly more surreal with each passing day.  I guess it makes sense that if an empire like America's is going to die, it is going to die in the flashiest, most over the top and tasteless way possible.

Yesterday saw the spectacle of Hillary Clinton being grilled for 11 (!) hours on Benghazi, and effectively parrying her opponents' thrusts while making them look feeble and silly.  It was the greatest ad her campaign could have advised.  It was also another way for the public to see that garden variety morons are regularly elected to seats in Congress.  While making the Senate might require a certain degree of savvy and slickness, the House is full of machine hacks, back-slapping good old boys, bubble-headed ex-beauty queens, and grandstanding ideologues who wouldn't know their ass from a hole in the ground.  It's a good thing that the Democrats have Elijah Cummings on the committee, since his honesty and gravitas make the clowns surrounding him look that much worse.

But today is another day, as they say, and maybe feeling threatened by Clinton's turn in the spotlight, Ben Carson opened his mouth again.  He said that he feels threatened and needs a Secret Service detail.  Now that in itself is understandable, especially for a presidential candidate, and more especially for a black man running for president, even if Carson is running the right of Attila the Hun.  However, that was not the whole substance of what Carson said.  He framed it this way: "I'm in great danger because I challenge the secular progressive movement to the very core."  Yes, that's right, he's saying that there is a bloodthirsty cabal of "secular progressives" out there who want to kill him.  And that's where the crazy comes in, because he is implying that people like yours truly and many others are actually members of a nefarious "movement" out to destroy the country.  This kind of paranoia is playing with political fire, much like Carson's predilection for comparing people he doesn't like to Nazis.  I actually think he really believes this.

His statement also reminded me powerfully of the satire film Bob Roberts, which was made in the early 1990s but which has a lot to say about the current state of conservative politics.  Roberts (played by Tim Robbins) is a conservative politician/folk singer who wraps his extreme right wing ideology in songs that follow the structure of 60s protest broadsides, but which extoll hatred against progressives.  (Examples are "I'm a Bleeding Heart" and "Retake America.")  Near the end of the film it appears that someone has attempted to kill Roberts, but he manages to survive, although it becomes apparent that the whole thing was faked to gain sympathy.  Now I don't quite expect Carson ever to do something like that (although I wouldn't put it past Trump.)  Both Carson and Trump have, however, singled out people they don't like as dangerous internal enemies to be destroyed, immigrants in the case of Trump, and "secular progressives" in the case of Carson.  The fact that these two men lead the Republican field while engaging in paranoid fever dreams of false accusations ought to frighten us.

Last but not least, Carson has now passed Trump in the Iowa polls.  This is not a surprise to me, nor do I think that Carson's momentum will be temporary.  As a child of Nebraska and longtime adult resident of the Midwest, I can tell you that Iowans put a big premium on being "nice."  Trump is not nice, he has the typical swagger and meanness of a tri-state area asshole amped up to 11.  I was surprised that such an attitude was playing well in Iowa, and I guess it has finally worn thin.  While Carson says completely outrageous things, he delivers them in a kind of sonorous tone with a smile, perfectly in tune with Iowan notions of niceness.  Comparing his opponents to Nazis is still "nice" if he does it in his amiable way.  This, by the way, is why Midwestern Nice cannot be trusted.

Of course, if Carson wins Iowa, it may not really mean a whole helluva lot.  Remember who won the Republican primary in Iowa last time? That's right, it was Rick Santorum.  That win didn't exactly propel him to national victory.  The same goes for Mike Huckabee in 2008.  Iowa is a caucus state, and its Republicans are disproportionately of the Christian conservative variety, going back to Pat Robertson's strong showing in 1988.  The Republican caucus (as opposed to the Democratic one in that state) is pretty much useless as a predictor of anything outside of that particular state, since the candidate who thumps the Bible the hardest wins every time.  If anything, I hope Carson wins Iowa so we can stop paying so much damn attention to it.

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