Entry from September 19, 2010

John Rentoul, who blogs for the London Independent has a long-running series of media critiques (though he doesn’t call them that) under the rubric: “Questions to Which the Answer is No.” In today’s Independent on Sunday his colleague, Rupert Cornwell, poses a classic of the kind with the headline: “Has America gone mad?” Of course, there are no prizes for guessing that he is writing about the election on Tuesday as the Republican nominee for senator from Delaware of Christine O’Donnell, whom he regards as “spectacularly unqualified but blessed by the Tea Party and Saint Sarah and making all the right ultra-conservative noises.” And she is only the latest example of those who, obviously on the verge of insanity themselves, Americans have recently chosen in spite of the best advice of R. Cornwell, who is accordingly amazed.

What on earth is going on? These days, a grounding in clinical psychology is probably of more use than a PhD in political science in determining the mood of the US voters ahead of November”s mid-term elections. But whether or not the country is experiencing a collective nervous breakdown, last week’s batch of primary results have established one thing beyond doubt — that America”s electorate has never in modern times been angrier, more volatile and less predictable than now.

Nor is it only bemused Brits who have been discombobulated by Miss O’Donnell’s victory. Maureen Dowd in today’s New York Times insists that the candidate inhabits “a fantasy world. Literally,” because she “identifies with the women of Middle Earth” and quotes from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books — even though Mo Do herself quotes from another fantasy, the movie The Incredibles. Not that she’s not even-handed in handing out blame for the lamentable state of affairs in which she finds the country, as she blames President Obama, too — for his “bloodless rationality” and the lack of passion evident in his failing to make more of an effort to whack these wackos. “The insane have achieved political respectability,” she writes, “while the sane act too good for it all. The irrational celebrate while the rational act bored and above-it-all.”

The point is of course that, with a few rare exceptions, countries don’t go mad, and those who think they do on the basis of a primary election or two are far more likely to be living in some kind of fantasy or dream world than the allegedly “irrational” voters who did something they find otherwise inexplicable. In other words, Mr Cornwell and Miss Dowd both need to try thinking a little harder in order to see how an awful lot of Americans are thinking, rather than accusing them of madness for not thinking as they do. I commend to them an article by Angelo Codevilla in the July-August number of The American Spectator titled “America’s Ruling Class — And The Perils of Revolution.” Miss O’Donnell herself seemed to allude to it in her speech to the Family Research Council”s Value Voters Summit in Washington on Friday when, according to Politico she “torched ‘ruling-class elites’ and their ‘anti-Americanism’” — a sentiment that was obviously very much what her audience was ready to hear.

In fact, I wonder if Miss O’Donnell owes her victory and subsequent national prominence precisely to her characterization by establishment figures on both sides of the (old) political divide as weird or extreme. She and other tea party candidates like Rand Paul or Sharron Angle may have strange beliefs that seem to have little nothing to do with their political lives anyway, but maybe it’s just these that make them attractive to so many people. Maybe the fact that Karl Rove called Miss O’Donnell “nutty” was just what put her over the top. I myself have a foot in both camps, but I so detest the mindlessness of the media consensus about the Tea Party, as about other things, that I can sympathize with those who say — if there are any who say — that if the guys who have been in charge of things for the last decade or so and seem to think they ought to be in charge of things for ever believe this woman is some kind of nut, she sounds like she’s just the gal for me.

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