Something dreadful is happening to American politics. It isn’t the absurd boo-hurrah dynamic in the public square. It isn’t the idiotic posturing and “gotcha” dynamics of the modern media machine. Nor is it even the slimy vicissitudes of comics who pretend they aren’t commentators. You know who I’m talking about.
All these things have been around for some time, and are, in their own way, rather charming to those of us choked by the cloying goo of bien-pensant European socialism which has infected parties of all stripes and deadened public discourse.
Instead, what disturbs us about American politics today is how utterly fucking mad the Right has become in recent years. We Europeans who previously looked admiringly across the Atlantic, dreaming idly of green cards, or at least of importing some of the rugged, tooth-and-claw style capitalism that we imagined had made the US the greatest country on earth, now look on in mild terror at the unmitigated car crash that is the Republican Party.
The rot probably, perhaps predictably, set in with an unknown governor of a distant state, whose selection as John McCain’s running mate in 2008 catapulted what might previously have been written off as peculiar and parochial politics onto the national stage. Angry, demotic intellectual lightweights were legitimised overnight.
Of course, Sarah Palin is a delightful figure to celebrate, because, like the President whose successor she hoped to serve, she had an almost preternatural ability to wind up the humourless, fact-obsessed bores of the Left. Our own Margaret Thatcher still, even in her twilight years, has much the same power, which is, I am convinced, the primary reason the British Right still adores her.
But Palin was not an injection of youthful energy into a tired establishment. She was the opposite: an admission of desperation by the GOP, an abnegation of responsibility. Sarah Palin was a Republican cry for help. And the loony political landscape she helped to construct during that campaign has dealt a serious blow to conservatives everywhere.
All we want, here in Europe, is to be able to point to the US and say: “Look! These people want to crush the poor and eradicate public spending on healthcare and privatise schools and sell guns to third-world dictators and take a scythe to welfare programs (excuse me while I change my trousers and mop my brow) … but they built America! And eradicated slavery! And created the best gosh-darn nation in the goddamn world!”
But we can’t, any more. And it’s the fault of hair-raising harpies like Michele Bachmann and tub-thumping lunatics and bores and oddballs like everyone who ran for the Republican nomination this year. “Must it really be – holds nose – Mitt Romney?” wrote James Delingpole, the soundest commentator in the UK. He said what we were all thinking.
It’s as much how you say it, as what you say. Thus, Romney appears to have been chosen for no better reason than he was the least weird of the GOP candidates. That’s right: the perma-tanned, Barbie-wifed, mega-rich Mormon was the least weird person the Republicans could come up with. To those Lefties who bleat on about a vast, Koch-sponsored conspiracy across government and industry, you have to say: “OK, but… the Republicans couldn’t field a single credible candidate.”
The reason I’m so furious about all of this is that we used to look to America as a symbol of how politics ought to be done, and how debate on the Right ought to proceed in particular. But instead of flying the flag for military intervention (yay!), tax cuts for the rich (yay!) and privatised healthcare (double yay!) the American Right has become a liability to the rest of us.
No longer can the Tories in England point to the GOP and say: “Check those bitches out. Look at them. Don’t you want to be like America, with all the wealth and consumption and brilliant warmongering and global policing and moral superiority and cultural hegemony and all the other wonderful things and Oh! My! God! have you heard The Star Spangled Banner?”
Instead, we find ourselves making excuses for Republicans. We distance ourselves from them, and hope that the liberal media – the genuinely liberal media, which enjoys almost complete power in Europe, unlike the attractive polarity of the American TV and talk radio landscape and, ye Gods, Rachel Maddow – don’t lay the guilt by association stuff on too thickly.
It was all fine and dandy when American conservatives were simply fiercely conservative. But since they leapt off the deep end, and the Tea Party began to look more and more like the authentic voice of the Republican Party, we desperate, outnumbered, endangered European Right-wingers are stepping back and laughing along with the rest.
The Right in the US, in its anger and desperation (traditionally liberal qualities), is now making the same mistakes as its enemies: alienating the majority of moderate voters with shrill battle cries. The global warming lobby screwed up by making too many outrageous claims in too hysterical a tone. Now Right-wingers are doing the same with their (otherwise absolutely brilliant) economic arguments.
Come on, America. You used to be good at this stuff.
Milo Yiannopoulos is founder and editor-in-chief of The Kernel, a European tech, media and politics magazine.