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."
The Federal Election Commission found no evidence that Senator John Ensign, Republican of Nevada, 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-employed 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 black humor.
If only this were an isolated case, but it's not. Politicans are taking tips from reality TV to aim at the lowest common denominator—more like a pie in the face than keen wit. 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; and claims that Obama's trip to India cost taxpayers $200 million a day. She goes through staff members like she puts runs in her nylons.
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 merely 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 $85 billion price tag over 20 years—despite a single building in the complex that broke ground in 2004 for $660 million and wound up costing almost $6 billion, a sort of knife-in-the-ribs-of-the-public 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. This type of black humor straight out of Dr. Strangelove.
Even minor politicans wield humor with behind-the-back parlor tricks. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York 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 she's eminently qualified, according to Bloomberg. 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 encourage consumers to smoke, get cancer and die.
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 BS.
Even Tea Party true believers are in on the shenanigans. Take their stand on race, for example. 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 billion in the red after arranging a $2 trillion in tax cut for the wealthiest one 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, Jr., claiming white people are the ones being discriminated against. Hard to believe—but it's revealed by a Public Religion Research Institute study of hundreds of thousands of online polls designed to detect prejudice. Over 60% of white tea partiers, 56% of white Republicans, and 50% of white independents claim that they, not minorities, are being discriminated against today. U.S. 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. It's as if Marie Antoinette said, "Give 'em humor."
©2010 Don Monkerud. Don Monkerud is an Aptos, California-based writer who follows cultural issues and politics and writes occasional satire.
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