American politics is a circus, no doubt of that. The trouble is, it’s a circus that never leaves town.
That’s bad for the country, but good for observers who are interested in becoming more intimately acquainted with the talent on display. Having watched several recent performances, I’d like to offer my opinion of some of the leading players in what is surely the greatest show on earth, Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey, and Buffalo Bill Cody himself notwithstanding.
(One caveat: Because the show never stops, there’s a regular turnover in personnel. I can’t guarantee that the same performers will be on hand when you next visit the big tent. But don’t worry about being short-changed on entertainment. The supply of people who want to be in this circus is limitless.)
The principal high flyer of the moment is Rep. Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, who when he’s not soaring high above reality represents, with no particular distinction, a district just down the road from where I live. Brightly costumed in Austrian economic theory and unencumbered by data or any knowledge of the behavior of actual human beings, he swings on his trapeze while waving the banner of his Plan for America’s Future. In the future this daring young man envisions, taxes will be cut, the budget will be pared down to next to nothing, the deficit will be erased, Medicare will be replaced by vouchers and Social Security with private accounts, all insurance companies will be scrupulously honest and all businessmen incorruptible and everyone will invest wisely and there will never be another depression or even recession and wishes will be horses and beggars will ride to El Dorado, which will turn out to be situated at the base of the Big Rock Candy Mountain . Remember, though, that while Rep. Ryan is working with a net, if he gets his way you won’t have one.
Right now it’s the Tea Partiers doing the bulk of the juggling. They’re mostly old enough to be covered by Medicare and on the receiving end of Social Security and no way in hell are they giving up those benefits. Still, they are committed to reducing government spending as long as there’s a black guy running the government. So to keep those balls in the air they have to believe both things at least until 2012 when they can put a white person back in the White House (and why else would they call it that?) and the deficit won’t matter anymore.
Those oddly-dressed and -painted little men you see emerging from the tiny car, whom you first take to be syphilitic dwarfs, are in reality congressman of both parties fleeing responsibility for anything congress itself may have done. Good or bad doesn’t matter; if the public is anti-Washington, so are they. With their antics – hurling invective and flailing at one another with slap-sticks – they hope to distract you from examining their records; regrettably, they are no more amusing than ordinary clowns.
No lions are being tamed at present. The erstwhile lion tamers – the members of the Supreme Court – have been called away to protect corporations from the depredations of the public interest.
Before your very eyes, the Anti-Defamation League will twist its principles (in order to suck up the American right-wing) by opposing the so-called Ground Zero mosque. Pretzel-making is a straightforward business in comparison. Don’t miss this one.
There is no ringmaster, but candidates for the position are coming from all directions. There are so many of them Halloween party-goers can’t find costumes and BDSM parlors are facing a shortage of whips. First there’s Sarah Palin, all spiffed up and ready to take charge. But no, here comes Glenn Beck and he’s got God on his side. Now Bill O’Reilly is sputtering with anger at his losing his lead. Sean Hannity wants the world to know that if anger is what it takes nobody can get than him. And Rupert Murdoch may just decide to let his underlings sulk and take the job himself.
Nobody can predict the outcome. All we know, alas, is that the show must go on.