Poor Barry Goldwater; he was just born too early. Much has been written about Goldwater’s historic wipeout in 1964; the conventional wisdom, which held for many years, was that America could only go so wingnut. Once a guy started to be associated, fairly or not, with the John Birch Society and unrepentant neoconfederates from the deep south, he would not only lose, but lose spectacularly, in the general election no matter the opponent.
Not to belabor the oft-stated point, but Peak Wingnut was a lie. I used to think that the antediluvian views on the right involving gays, women, and minorities were merely a cynical ploy to divert attention from the primary goal of the money men, which was simply to loot the treasury. Whether I was right or wrong in this assumption, thirty years later the lunatics aren’t just running the asylum, but they’re having their own County Fair there, complete with corndogs, midgets, fireworks, and an air show, not necessarily in that order.
When I was in college, I bothered to attend a debate between Phyllis Schlafly, who nearly singlehandedly defeated the ERA, and Sarah Weddington, who successfully argued Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court. In those innocent times, it still appeared that Schlafly may have won her battle but Weddington had clearly won the war; reproductive freedom had been the law of the land for a dozen years, and women of my generation took it for granted. The relative equanimity between these old foes made the event feel about as consequential as a Broadway revival on the road.
Fast forward to 2012… No only did Republicans proudly defeat the Lily Ledbetter Act, which would have given women, if nothing else, the right to sue when they were paid less than men for the SAME WORK, but now we’re arguing not whether an adult woman can control her own body in ordinary circumstances, but whether she can do so when she’s been raped by, say, her uncle and happens to be 14. Maybe the little slut wanted it; better safe than sorry. Really?
When we used to say, “sex sells,” it meant something entirely different: buy this product and you might get laid. Generations of Americans bought cars, booze, cigarettes, lava lamps and polyester shirts based on this simple idea. Now, sex is still being sold, natch, but the message today seems to be: buy this politician and you might be able to prevent others from getting laid. (At least more than you do…) I’m utterly mystified that this seems to work. Maybe it’s just because of the recession, but who, exactly, can afford to spend money or effort preventing others from having sex lives, when it’s tough enough to afford one’s own. (You do at the very least need a little privacy, which is tough if you’ve moved back home with Mom….)
The Obama presidency has, among other things, put the cuckoo right in something of a bind; he won the Presidency not because he was so wonderful, but because Republicans were so awful. And yet, they think that the reason Bush and his legacy was so roundly rejected was because, well, he spent too much, almost like a liberal. (Not that anybody complained at the time….) Once you’ve adopted a delusional rationalization like that, you’re off to the races, as the choice of Paul Ryan as VP and the continuing candidacy of Todd Akin in Missouri proves.
All the while, Republicans across the country are taking a bold stand against something they call “Sharia Law.” which conveniently enough closely mirrors their current vision of Utopia. It would be funny if it were only in jest, but it isn’t. There’s a heck of a lot not to like about Obama and the Democrats, but they aren’t nuts, at the very least. So far, the dismal economy and hundreds of millions in attack ads have kept the race essentially tied, or at least I hope that’s the reason. Because the alternative, that half of Americans are actually that crazy, is a little too much to take.