Nelson Muntz for President

We hear a lot about how this country is split down the middle between liberals and conservative, secularists and evangelicals, “blue state” and “red state” values. But the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced the real split is between nice people and bullies. And the bullies have been winning. Anyone who ever got a wedgie, or heard the phrase, “stop hitting yourself” between the ages of 5 and 14, recognized Dubya and Cheney for what they were as soon as they appeared on the scene, despite the Eddie Haskell act they put on for the press. An John “Nasty” McCain and Sarah “Barracuda” Palin are more of the same; except that now, instead of stealing your milk money, they want to steal your country.

It’s not that their followers don’t recognize them as bullies; they admire bullies.

As an organizing principle of society, the worship of strength is as old as human history. And for a long time, it was a sensible principle. When disputes were solved by brute force alone, survival depended on entrusting one’s safety to the mightiest warrior in the tribe. Before science, commerce, and philosophy/theology developed to the point that wisemen, merchants, and priests could vie for leadership status, might made right.

But the principle of civilization has, over the past few millenia, developed as an alternative to might makes right. Maybe there was a better way of running things than putting the biggest, meanest guy in charge, and doing whatever he said. Simply put, this is the principle behind ancient Athens, and the Roman Republic (until Caesar re-established Bully Rule, taking over at the point of a spear).

The transition can also be seen in the contrast between the Old Testament God (who, let’s face it, is the Biggest Bully of them all), and Jesus of the Gospels. OT God was all about smiting; Jesus was all about turning the other cheek, giving up your life in order to save it, and a lot of other behaviors self-actualization gurus would call “self-defeating.”

Wisdom, virtue, generosity, tolerance, the idea that “all men are created equal”—all of these things are difficult to live up to, and a lot less immediately effective than smashing somebody’s head with a rock. But for a long time, a lot of people have considered these the best principles upon which to run a society. America’s founders believed it. George Washington, who found the sound of bullets whizzing past his head “charming” believed it. So did little Jemmy Madison, whom George could have tossed across the Potomac with little more effort than he tossed that apocryphal dollar coin, if he had wanted to. But he wouldn’t, see, because in spite of his physical and military might, he didn’t believe that was what made him right—or gave him the right to lead.

The mass culture of the 20th century, while it certainly had its faults, stood squarely for the idea that might did not make right. In the days of the big studios and the Production Code, Hollywood was pro-niceness. John Wayne was tough, but honorable (even if honor didn’t assert itself until the last minute, when he scooped up Natalie Wood and said, “Let’s go home, Debbie”). Jimmy Stewart couldn’t be licked by stout Edward Arnold and his jackbooted thugs in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

“Red State” conservatives supposedly pine for those old-fashioned cultural values, but if Mr. Smith was unfolding right now, in real life, they’d be defending Arnold’s ruthless capitalist (and turning his ghost-written autobiography into a best-seller), and deriding Jimmy Stewart as a sentimental weakling, whose interest in boys’ camps was a little, you know, suspect.

Obama supporters are furious that McCain and Palin have now resorted to non-stop, blatant lying. I know that sounds intemperate, but it happens to be true: they’re lying about earmarks and the “bridge to nowhere,” lying about Obama supporting sex-ed for kindergardeners, lying about his tax policy. Not exaggerating, not dealing in half-truths, but lying.

What really makes Obama supporters mad is, they seem to be getting away with it. Doesn’t anybody care that they’re lying? Won’t the media call them on it? Won’t their supporters stop cheering when they find out?

We Blue State-types think this way because we are laboring under the mistaken impression that the American people—even, you know, those other, Red State-types—will not tolerate a liar. In fact, they don’t care about—or in some cases, even believe in—empirical “truth.” They don’t value truth over falsity; they only value strength over weakness. As long as McCain and Palin tell their lies boldly, with a conviction undimmed by doubt or a concern with whether what they’re saying has any basis in fact, they are exhibiting “strength.” And if we whine and cry about it, so much the better.

The role of comedy in all this is complicated, and I’ll get into some of the details in a later post, or posts (this may even be the focus of a book, someday, but I’m trying it out here). For now, though, I’d like to make a modest proposal. Since in today’s GOP, in contrast to the era of Teddy Roosevelt, a president is expected not just to say “bully,” but to be one, why nominate a former juvenile delinquent like McCain? It’s been decades since he gave anyone a swirlie, and probably can’t even remember how it’s done. Why not nominate a fresh face? A young, vigorous lad, who is a true outsider, not only to the beltway, but to reality (which the GOP has also soured on in recent years)?

Ladies and gentlemen of the GOP, I give you your dream ticket: Muntz/Palin ’08! Ha, ha!

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