Political freak show that does little credit to US democracy


From comic to crass, this US campaign has been littered with gaffes and surreal moments

THE US midterm campaign enters its last week today, after one of the silliest and most brutal election seasons ever.

The level of political discourse has been abysmal, with politicians trading insults like children in a schoolyard. This freak show will end soon, and it has not been a credit to US democracy.

The New York gubernatorial debate on October 18th provided comic relief. Carl Paladino, the homophobic Republican candidate, had insisted that all seven gubernatorial contestants participate.

It later transpired that Jimmy McMillan, the founder of the Rent is Too Damned High party, lives rent free. Charles Barron, a Brooklyn city councilman and former Black Panther, was the only candidate who challenged the Democratic candidate and likely victor, Andrew Cuomo, on policy questions.

Kristin Davis, a former prostitution madam, joked that as governor she would fit in with the whores in the state capital, Albany. Davis said she was best qualified to reform the Metropolitan Transport Agency because unlike the MTA “my former escort agency . . . operated one set of books and I offered on-time and reliable service”.

“Whore” was what an aide to the California Democratic candidate for governor, Jerry Brown, called his Republican rival Meg Whitman. Instead of denouncing the name-calling, Brown noted that it was done in a private conversation on a mobile phone, and that its recording was probably illegal.

A new crop of women politicians affiliated with the Tea Party have made sport of mocking the masculinity of their opponents. Sarah Palin said Jan Brewer, the Republican governor of Arizona, had “the cojones” that President Barack Obama lacked to take on illegal immigration. Palin went on to belittle “impotent, limp and gutless reporters”.

Before the Republican primary in Delaware, Christine O’Donnell said Mike Castle, the veteran politician from whom she swept the nomination, was “unmanly”. The election was “not a bake-off”, she told him. “Get your pants on.”

Sharron Angle, the Tea Party candidate who may beat the Senate majority leader Harry Reid in Nevada, brought “man up” into common usage. Angle is so enchanted with the exhortation that she used it four times in a speech on October 21st. “We are saying tonight and every night of early voting, man up, Harry Reid . . . He needs to take some responsibility. He says it is not his fault on the economy. Man up, Harry Reid. He says there is no problem with social security. Man up, Harry Reid. He says this war is lost and your general is dishonest. You owe us an apology. Man up, Harry Reid.”

Angle did not attend a rally in her honour two days earlier, but Sheriff Joe Arpaio from Arizona spoke on her behalf, suggesting Nevada should follow his example and “put up some tents” in the desert to imprison illegal immigrants. Placards at the rally called Harry Reid a traitor, a socialist and garbage.

Race-baiting in America has shifted from blacks to Hispanics. One of Angle’s campaign advertisements featured menacing-looking Mexicans sneaking along a fence, next to a Mexican flag. Angle then held a meeting with the Hispanic students’ union at Rancho High School in Las Vegas, where she claimed: “I’m not sure that those are Latinos in that commercial.”

She managed to offend Latinos and Asians by telling the students: “Some of you look a little Asian to me.” The biggest outrage to Hispanics has been a television advertisement which purports to represent Latinos who advocate immigration reform. It attempts to dissuade Hispanics – who usually support the Democrats – from voting. “Clearly, the Democratic leadership betrayed us,” the advert says. “Aren’t you tired of politicians playing games with your future? Don’t vote this November.”

The television spot is the brainchild of Robert DePosada, the former director of Hispanic affairs for the Republican national committee.

Christine O’Donnell of Delaware provoked gasps and giggles a few days ago when she questioned whether the US constitution really calls for separation of church and state. Her Democratic opponent Chris Coons wearily pointed out that the “establishment clause” of the first amendment bans the government from establishing a religion, or from preventing the free exercise of religion. This is the same woman who, in a television interview a few years ago, replied “Yeah” when asked whether she really intended to stop everyone in America from having sex.

Then there is Tea Party hero Joe Miller, the Republican Senate candidate from Alaska, who holds a law degree from Yale. Miller says the minimum wage is unconstitutional, and claims the US could control its borders, just as East Germany did. He hasn’t yet proposed building a wall and watchtowers, or shooting immigrants on sight.

When a reporter in Anchorage attempted to ask Miller about allegations he was reprimanded for using government computers for his own political campaign, Miller’s bodyguards handcuffed the journalist and detained him for 20 minutes.

Stephen Broden, an African American preacher who is a Republican candidate for Congress in Texas, is frightening in a different way. Broden last week told the Dallas television station WFAA: “Our nation was founded on violence . . . The option is on the table. I don’t think that we should ever remove anything from the table, as it relates to our liberties and freedoms.”

Last year, Broden compared Obama’s America to the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews. “In Germany when the Jews were walking into the furnaces . . . they walked in because they did not believe that this was happening,” Broden said. “They didn’t believe that humanity could be so evil. I am submitting to you tonight that is where America is right now. They are our enemies and we must resist them.”

Some campaign incidents are downright surreal, such as governor Jan Brewer’s contention in her only televised debate that Arizona police found headless bodies in the desert. She was later forced to admit they had not, and refused to participate in further debates on the grounds that only one was required to qualify for government campaign funding.

Jack Conway, the Irish-American Democrat who is standing against the Tea Party candidate Rand Paul in the Kentucky Senate race, has been criticised even by his own camp for an advertisement that dredged up a prank involving Paul as a college student.

“Why did Rand Paul once tie a woman up and tell her to bow down before a false idol and say his god was Aqua Buddha?” a deep male voice intones in the ad, which was based on articles in GQmagazine and the Washington Post. Conway admitted he did not meet the woman, and had no proof the incident happened.

Winston Churchill famously remarked that democracy was the worst possible system, with the exception of all others. Maybe it’s time we heard about the others.