Monday, February 22, 2010
A Ghoulish Populism
"How's that hope-y, change-y thing workin' for ya?" This was Tea Party icon Sarah Palin a couple of weeks ago, always devout but ever so subtly vicious, stoking her fan base at the first official Tea Party Convention in Nashville--people who came from all over America to watch the media superstar dispense her "pitch-perfect populism" aimed at leading the GOP to political El Dorado. Interviewed shortly afterwards by Chris Wallace of Fox News, Palin was asked what her approach to foreign policy would be if she were elected president. "That's easy," she replied. "We win, you lose." Now you tell me, how irresistible is that? Andrew Sullivan, who live-blogged the entire 40-minute speech, had this to say afterward: "If you are one of those people who think this person cannot become president of the United States, think again."
Republicans, according to Frank Rich in the New York Times, have fully embraced what he calls "the Palin shtick," namely, the notion that Republicans are the anti-big-government, anti-stimulus, anti-Wall Street, pro-Tea Party tribunes of the common folk. It's all part of the new "populist putsch" by which the GOP is rebranding itself as anti-Washington and linking Democrats to corporate interests. "This GOP populism is all bunk," Rich writes, "but they're getting away with their 'Populist masquerade.'"
Reading the words "Populist masquerade," I couldn't help thinking of that once-revered puppet team, Punch and Judy. Sarah Palin is indisputably the GOP's Judy, but who among the vast mishmash of ill-assorted and ill-equipped male candidates, is destined to become her Punch? Republicans all know there is a glaring vacuum here, and last week at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (famously known as CPAC), they were desperately trying to fill it, using this year's event as more of a nominating process to flush out the Party's leading lights.
Conspicuously absent from the CPAC proceedings were Sarah and Rush, but the rest of the GOP crowd who (rather like the Taliban in Afghanistan and al-Shabat in Somalia) would like to topple the government and gain control of the nation, were out in full force. As I followed a live-blogging account of the 3-day conference on HP and saw excerpts from some of the speeches on TV, Punch and Judy slowly morphed into something much bigger: Grand Guignol. This was literally the Theater of the Big Puppet, which existed in Paris in Place Pigalle from 1897 to 1962, and specialized in naturalistic horror shows.
The term is still used for graphic, amoral horror entertainment, a genre first popular in Elizabethan and Jacobean theater. And when I discovered the above photo on the Internet--of Grand Guignol actors in a production demonstrating the "face-frying technique"--I knew I had hit pay dirt. The image meshed perfectly with CPAC's "stomping carpet," which was embedded with the faces of MSNBC pundits like Keith Olbermann, along with an invitation to "stomp on me."
Of course, the face really being fried and stomped on at CPAC's destruction derby was that of Barack Obama.
Mitt Romney kicked off by calling Obama's presidency a failure. John Boehner complained that Obama had slapped the table and wagged his finger at him during a White House meeting, ostensibly for scaring the American public into a state of economic anxiety. Tim Pawlenty suggested Republicans take a cue from Tiger Woods' wife and use a 9-iron to smash the window of big government in this country. Dick Cheney, who appeared unannounced and received a standing ovation, stated officiously that Obama was a one-term president, while his daughter Liz declared that "There is no polite way to put this: Obama's incompetence is getting people killed." For three days the place was rife with toxic hypocrisy, caustic ignorance, and the determination to do damage to Obama--all under the guise of being saviors to working-class Americans. One could only conclude that Conservatives, with their amoral melodramas, unpredictable manias, and macabre ironies, are true heirs to the golden age of Grand Guignol and its nihilistic universe where there is retribution but no justice.
So, in this crazed and sinister production with all the stops out, which conquistador emerges as the front-runner, the penultimate Punch? Answer: Ron Paul. If you don't believe me, check out the Straw Poll stats below:
Ron Paul wins CPAC 2010 straw poll.
Romney makes a healthy second, way ahead of the rest of the pack.
Ron Paul 31%
Mitt Romney 22%
Sarah Palin 7%
Tim Pawlenty 6%
Mike Pence 5%
Newt Gingrich 4%
Mike Huckabee 4%
Mitch Daniels 2%
John Thune 2%
Rick Santorum 2%
Haley Barbour 1%
AAnd if you want to leave the Theater of Horrors feeling good about what you've just seen, consider the reassuring thoughts of Atlantic blogger Marc Ambinder, who captures the contradictions these folks are managing to produce in the mass psyche as they busy themselves turning our world inside out:
"As the political world tries to make sense of the cartography of the Republican Party -- where does Ron Paul fit in? Is CPAC too libertarian? Does Mitt Romney speak the language of the conservative base? How does CPAC relate to the Tea Party movement? How do Ron Paul and Sarah Palin relate to the Tea partiers? How does the Republican primary base intersect with -- or does it -- with the Tea Party movement -- and what does this augur for 2010 --?"