An Unnecessary Role

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Wanted: witty-pop-culture-reference guy

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I haven’t watched the whole of Monday’s CNN “Tea Party” Republican presidential debate, but the edited highlights above seem to confirm how deeply odd the Republican presidential primary is likely to be, and how utterly foreign UK observers are likely to find it. The debate appears to illustrate a political culture that is radically different from the mainstream not just as we in the UK perceive it but also in terms of where it was for the Republican itself no more than three years ago.

And yet when I was recently reading an old (but extremely good) profile of one of the long-shot candidates, former Senator Rick Santorum, I was struck by the following vignette:

Santorum arrives at the courthouse rally dressed casually in sneakers, khakis and a blue button-down. Hootie and the Blowfish blast over the loudspeakers. The College Republicans swarm, starry-eyed. One flustered student in a blue blazer asks Santorum to autograph an upside-down campaign placard.

“If I sign this does that mean Paul is dead?” asks a smiling Santorum, in a Beatles reference that sails straight over the student’s head.

Now before I go on, it’s worth emphasising that Rick Santorum is a stunningly offensive piece of work, devotedly in hock to the faux-libertarian, militaristic theology of the Tea Party (not to mention Hootie and the Blowfish). But isn’t this a really interesting moment? A man who was no more than twelve years old when the Beatles split up, making an obscure joke about the “Paul is dead” rumour, and in particular the supposedly clue to the fate of Paul McCartney to be found on the Magical Mystery Tour album cover.

You read about something like that and even the nastiest right wing ideologue becomes, what, more human, more normal, more likeable, even? And you wonder what it is about politics that breeds out these moments, that smooths over the essential normality of people and teaches them that really what people want to hear are not snarky comments about bands but the practiced lines of the politician. I’m not so much thinking of Santorum here but more those MPs or councillors you get on Twitter whose weekend is a non-stop whirlwind of surgeries, community events and “WORKING HARD 4 YOU”.

As well as political cynicism, maybe what politicians and the media need more of is a bit of pragmatic irreverence – for the pols to become comfortable with the idea that the odd gag here or there is not going to destroy their political future, and the media to not wave their handbags in outrage every time Ken makes an off-colour remark. Because if Rick Santorum was a bit more like the witty-pop-culture-reference guy and a bit less like the homosexuality-is-the-same-as-incest guy we’d probably all be a little bit better off.


Written by samelliot

September 14, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Posted in America, Cynicism