If you were looking for a allegory to represent this asinine political season, you could do a lot worse than last week’s Sesame Street cleavage-gate.
Katy Perry’s tit-ular performance with Elmo served as something of a Rorschach Test for those who were paying attention. A small, idiotic and extremely noisy minority jumped on the video as an example of the kind of contemporary debauchery that must be nipped (sorry) in the bud: a taxpayer-sponsored program showing complete disregard for our people’s cautious, conservative values, blah, blah, blah. Proof-positive of big government run amok (just like Elmo in the video).
Meanwhile, those who were willing to take Perry’s appearance at face value looked soberly at the facts and wondered what could possibly be the big deal. Here was a skit in which a singer has arranged to play dress-up with Elmo, and has arrived in a getup no more risquÁ© than those favored by practically every recent Disney Princess … not to mention Tinkerbell, whose existence dates to 1940. Sure, the singer in question is prone to provocation, and recently shot whipped cream from her bustier, but exactly which portion of the Sesame Street target audience knows any of that?
Do we really think the nation’s preschoolers, when presented with this utterly innocuous (if not particularly well-sung) videoclip, would fall victim to insidious, childhood-sapping thoughts — that Katy’s boobies would be too much of a distraction from Elmo’s cuteness, or from the skit’s messages about frustration among friends and creative play? Have we produced a generation of 3-year-olds who are likely to see Katy Perry and immediately think, ”Nice rack”?
Of course we haven’t. And yet it was astonishing how quickly the Children’s Television Workshop and PBS capitulated to the tittering (sorry) of a few YouTube nitwits, and pulled the Perry sketch from Sesame Street’s New Year’s Eve special. I mean, honestly, aren’t we past this sort of mindless, knee-jerk moralism? As easy it is to be ambivalent about any controversy that surrounds the ever-plastic Perry, isn’t it time we made a conscious decision to ignore those folks with the sticks shoved farthest up their asses? Whose piercing screams about every cultural artifact they find overly sexual, or otherwise corrupting, we should by now recognize as appeals for rescue from their own hypocritical prudery?
But while we’re at it — to ground this kerfuffle in the quicksand of contemporary politics — shouldn’t Americans have figured out by now, despite their continuing economic anguish and their ambivalence to the folks currently in power, how to view our current state of affairs rationally? No, the unemployment rate hasn’t dropped significantly since it exploded toward the end of the Bush administration. Yes, the deficit has exploded over the last few years — the portion for which the Democrats are responsible having been the inevitable result of any major stimulus package whose intention was to, you know, stimulate the economy. No, the Democrats’ policies have not provided a magical, instant elixir for everything that ails the nation. And no, the infighting, caving, capitulating, and occasionally corrupt Dems — particularly those in the utterly irredeemable U.S. Senate — have not exactly proven themselves a shining example of good government.
Ambivalence may be the best possible attitude toward the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress, considering their spotty prioritizing, their indifference toward selling their ideas to the public, and the weak-tea legislation they’re produced. Nevertheless, shouldn’t it be crystal clear to all but the most narrow-minded Teafoxlicans that our current course, as ugly as it is to watch and as half-a-loaf as its achievements have emerged, is infinitely preferable to the disaster that was demonstrably brought about by right-wing ideology over the last decade?
Shouldn’t we have learned by now to ignore the mostly incoherent ravings of the conservatives whose laissez-faire neglect nearly destroyed this nation’s economy, and who for two years have done everything in their power to foil any rational attempts to fix it? Shouldn’t we demand rational new (or old, for that matter) ideas before we change course, rather than a simple-minded insistence that the Obama administration has already ”failed” and must be punished? And shouldn’t we be taking a close look at the intellects, and in some cases the sanity, of those who would lead the new Congress?
These are not merely rhetorical questions. I actually want answers to them. I want to know why Americans so stubbornly refuse to learn from their very recent history; why our attention spans are so ludicrously short and our craving for instant gratification so ridiculously large; why we are so easily demagogued and tragically misled. We can debate all we want about the appropriate size and shape of a stimulus package, or the appropriate contents of a health-care reform package — as long as we acknowledge the fact that these are debates in which the Republican Party resolutely refused to engage over the past two years. Most of all, considering that last fact and so many others, I want to know why anyone in his right mind would think that returning to the Republicans — particularly these Republicans — the keys to the congressional cloakroom would be anything short of disastrous for the country.
Of course, conservatives don’t give a second thought to the destructive consequences of placing vapid characters like John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and Christine O’Donnell, or far-right ”thinkers” like Rand Paul and that loon from Alaska — I’m thinking Joe Miller, not that other loon — in power in Washington. Conservatives don’t mind the gridlock that will inevitably ensue, even if it explodes into a full-on government shutdown; they don’t want the government to do anything, anyway.
But the great moderate muddle — I mean middle — of the electorate clearly isn’t thinking about what electing more Republicans will mean. Forget about solutions — rational or otherwise — to our biggest problems. For two years now the GOP has proven that it cares nothing about those challenges — that, in fact, it cares about nothing apart from winning the next election, by any means necessary. Thus the craven, en masse refusal to pursue good-faith compromise on, much less sign on to, a single important policy put forward by the majority, and thus the despicable obsession with undercutting public confidence in anything the president does or says — to the point of encouraging the hate-mongering of racists and religious bigots.
A rational electorate would look at the last two years and conclude that what Congress (and our statehouses) need is fewer Republicans, not more of them — that it is, in fact, the Republicans who should be punished for standing in the way of fixing the god-awful mess they themselves created; for delaying the nation’s recovery in pursuit of political power for themselves; and for catering repeatedly, and grotesquely, to the very worst impulses of human nature.
That is what a rational electorate would do. Sometimes, though — to paraphrase that beacon of foreign-policy brilliance, Donald Rumsfeld — you go into an election with the electorate you have, not necessarily the one you would want. These midterm elections will be decided by turnout — by which sliver of the electorate shows up, and which does not. Right now it appears that irrationality will reign at the nation’s polling places on Nov. 2 … and that, sadly, we’re all going to be stuck with the government those voters deserve.