It all has to come to an end sometime—sadly, even Republicans eventually have to face some semblance of reality, if only when they run out of money—but this weekend’s presidential debate was enough to make even the most cynical voter prematurely nostalgic.
How could it get any better than it’s already been?
The presidential campaign hasn’t even started yet, officially, but recent weeks have offered a veritable cornucopia of treasures to the dedicated aficionado of American politics. The latest GOP debate—the 10th so far—produced some wonderful new greatest-hits selections for the delectation of viewing audiences.
There were Mitt and Newt going all Fearless Warrior on us, like angry dads doing their best I’m-mad-as-hell-and-I’m-not-going-to-take-it-anymore impersonations, declaring that they would start a war on Iran if that gosh-darned country doesn’t just buckle under and do what we say.
There were Michele and Herman, vowing that they wouldn’t hesitate to use waterboarding on bad guys who get obstinate; added bonus points should go to Herm for insisting that waterboarding isn’t torture. Since the writer Christopher Hitchens was brave enough to try it, perhaps Herm could stage a televised demonstration and undergo waterboarding himself, in order to show us all how it’s not unpleasant enough that we should lose any sleep over inflicting near-drowning on other human beings.
But the real highlight of the debate was when the camera occasionally pulled back and panned over the whole onstage line-up. It was thrilling—like seeing a beloved Disney animated movie come to life in the form of a contemporary political allegory.
Indeed, if you’re over 4 years old, how could the current Republican presidential race fail to qualify as your favorite-ever version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves? But instead of Grumpy, Dopey and Sleepy, we’ve been treated to a whole new array of characters this season—more and better than ever!
The GOP’s bumper crop of nine dwarves is headed up by Mitt “I’m not a lying sleazeball!” Romney, still desperately trying to convince everyone that the earth is flat and that he isn’t a completely amoral political opportunist who will unhesitatingly reverse any position to pander to the voters. Without even addressing the fact that he drove to Canada with his dog strapped to the roof of his car, we could call him Smarmy.
(The Irish setter, clearly unhappy with Dad’s strategy, responded by pooping all over the roof and windows of the Romney family car, according to news reports at the time. Given this Sunday’s New York Times story about how Mitt made many millions of dollars by acquiring businesses, running them into bankruptcy, and depriving people of their jobs, his former employees might want to consider the dog’s tactic for future reference.)
Then there’s Rick “I’m not a moron!” Perry, still counting on his fingers and visibly straining to remember the key points his despairing handlers told him to make. We don’t want to recycle the Dopey trope, so we could borrow from another Disney classic and call him Dumbo.
And of course there’s Herman “I’m not a chronic sexual predator who knows absolutely nothing about world leadership!” Cain, blithely changing the subject like a real political pro when he doesn’t know the answer to a question and simply talking about something else instead. He’s a fast learner, that Herm; we could call him Sleazy.
Coming up fast in the outside lane these days is Newt “I’m not a pompous gasbag who’s going to shoot myself in the foot yet again if you give me half a chance!” Gingrich, attempting to appear above the fray (“I’m so much smarter than the rest of these clowns that it’s beneath my dignity even to engage with such stupid questions!”) instead of letting on that he’s just as desperate as the others.
Although Newt’s swollen ego has always impaired his ability to perceive reality, even he must recognize that this is his last chance to convince the electorate that he’s a reasonable alternative to a sorry crew instead of a mind-bogglingly self-destructive blowhard whose self-regard is topped only by his remarkable talent for sabotaging his own chances whenever America makes the mistake of taking him seriously yet again.
Newt has long been the ultimate hypocrite, cheating on his wives while dumping one after another even as he excoriated Bill Clinton—still holding at wife number one, after all these years—for his own sexual conduct. If you’d rather talk about money than sex, let’s not forget Newt’s profligacy in running up a $500,000 debt at Tiffany’s for bling for wife number three, which didn’t stop him from lecturing everyone else about fiscal responsibility. “It’s a normal way of doing business,” he protested when questioned about his jewelry debt.
Of course, many voters think that attitude is precisely what needs to be changed in our nation’s capital, where the government has turned deficit spending into an art form, but whatever. Although a good case could be made for calling Newt many other names, we could probably all agree on Shameless.
Then there are the also-rans—poor Rick “I’m not invisible!” Santorum, whose frustration that nobody wants to hear from him has become so apoplectic that he looks as if he’s about to implode right up there at the podium, and Jon “I’m not Mitt!” Huntsman, who has been reduced to making forlorn jokes about being in Siberia, and Ron “I’m not crazy!” Paul, who shouldn’t really stand next to Rick Perry at these debates, because it makes him look like a frail, ancient, real-life little person who is about to be crushed by an extremely large but buffoonish cartoon hero, sort of like the laughably empty-headed but magnificently muscled Gaston in Beauty and the Beast.
In case we keep forgetting who Santorum is, we could call him What Was Your Name Again?
Huntsman can be You’re Not Going to Win No Matter What You Do, So Get Over It.
And if Gaston doesn’t hurl him off the castle wall first, Ron Paul can be hailed with Sorry, But No One Cares That You’re the Only One Here with a Modicum of Common Sense.
A little long for dwarf names, to be sure, but is it asking too much to give the guys with zero chance some extra verbiage as a consolation prize? If that seems too complicated, however, we could settle for simpler names. How about Irrelevant, Hopeless, and Weird?
And then there’s Michele “I make sense on alternate days, really I do!” Bachmann, our very own Snow White, who alternates between sounding intelligent and entertaining us with gaffes so spectacular they put her in Sarah Palin territory, otherwise known as Alaska (slightly less bleak than Siberia, in other words, but pretty far up there on the frozen tundra scale of exile).
Bachmann makes a lovely Snow White heroine, but since she’s the most bizarrely erratic of 10 epically underwhelming candidates in this ongoing debacle, maybe we should just call her Clueless.
Altogether, what a cast! Soon the presidential campaign will turn into a political thriller like Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, with victims dropping one by one, until the ghastly end: And then there were none.
But next year, after all the GOP contenders have finally bombed out of the race for the White House and Barack Obama—possibly the luckiest presidential incumbent in history, given the caliber of his challengers—has been reelected—someone should get the Republican characters back together and put on a show.
To supplement the hilarious cast we’ve grown so fond of during these months, Donald Trump and Chris Christie could make occasional cameo appearances, just for added laughs.
Disney is always on the lookout for new material, and the Republican race would make a great Broadway musical.
They could call it “The Decline and Fall of the American Empire.”