Monday, June 20, 2011

Vote Naked

In Evelyn Waugh's 1934 novel, A Handful of Dust, a boring English aristocrat named Tony Last divorces an unfaithful wife, turns his back on England and escapes into the Brazilian rain forest. Lost, marooned in the jungle, Tony falls ill and wanders delirious into an isolated village where he is nursed back to health by the illiterate half-caste Englishman, Mr. Todd. Todd is a lover of Dickens, and Tony's fate is to remain Todd's prisoner for life in the remote jungle, reading aloud to him from Todd's mildewed set of Dickens' novels.

"By the time that they were in the second volume however, the novelty of the old man's delight had begun to wane, and Tony was feeling strong enough to be restless. He touched more than once on the subject of his departure, asking about canoes and rains and the possibility of finding guides. But Mr. Todd seemed obtuse and paid no attention to these hints.

One day, running his thumb through the pages of Bleak House that remained to be read, Tony said, 'We still have a lot to get through. I hope I shall be able to finish it before I go.'

'Oh yes,' said Mr. Todd. 'Do not disturb yourself about that. You will have time to finish it, my friend.' "

This bizarre scenario returns to mind because it seems to me that the only thing worse than a lifetime of reading Dickens to an illiterate might have been sitting through a reading of Dickens by the author himself.

"You there, Sir - sit down!"

No, I take that back. The only thing worse than a lifetime of reading Dickens to an illiterate is the quadrennial runup to the Presidential election, in which, by a horrible role reversal, serial illiterates read some version of Dickens to the rest of us.

The field, of course, will be dominated by the Micawberesque blather and humbug of Gingrich. Adding to Gingrich's brand of humbug is Tom Miller, a "career flight attendant" whose political website sports the same litany of imminent fears familiar to any Republican and Faux News listener, everything from "Elected officials publicly dismissing the United States of America as a Judeo-Christian nation," to "Enemies captured on a foreign battlefield to be brought into our cities, tried within our public court systems, and given the rights and protections of a U.S. citizen" to "The wage of Federal employees to be 90% higher than the average of private sector employees" to "My President to appoint 36 czars, bypassing the Congressional confirmation process, giving these individuals a Federal authority over the citizens of the U.S.A." And more from the same hymnal.

But beyond the seemingly unending prospects of watching a waffling Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty's mindless embrace of contradiction, Michelle Bachmann's ignorance, Sarah Palin's cute gormlessness, Rick Perry's razor-cut machismo, Herman Cain's clueless affability, there are some bright spots in Bleak House. I'm not making any of this up just to add the spice of irony to another deadening political cycle.

For 2012, there is even a Democrat willing to take his chances against the incumbent, a chap named Randall Terry. Terry is a used car dealer from upstate New York and founder of the militant anti-abortion Operation Rescue. 

"I'll have an LGBT on white bread."

Terry is in favor of life, according to the introductory blurb on the nonpartisan website "[I]t may seem a little odd for a pro-life and anti-LGBT candidate to run for the Democratic nomination," his introductory copy concedes in understatement which, like the impending campaign, is devoid of any irony. Presumably Terry is for life, so long as it resembles neither a prime rib nor some person who behaves in ways which are none of his business. Fortunately the national patience will not be much taxed by Terry, whose mantle of sanctimony will doubtless be worn, again with merciful brevity, by Rick Santorum, the ex-Congressman whom Pennsylvania wisely forebore to return to his duties in Washington.

"I can't feel a thing." 

The candidate, who was reportedly lobotomized during a rowdy Republican fundraiser in the 2000 election cycle ("I thought it was the tattoo room"), claims civil liberties as his first concern - he opposes abortion rights, same-sex marriage, gay adoption, the teaching of evolution, sharia law, and gun control. He supports the Patriot Act, torture and domestic wiretapping. He apparently lacks an economic or foreign affairs agenda, presuming that a nation free from sin and theological error is a safe and happy place, where poverty strengthens character and where war is something we do to someone else.

On the Tea Party ticket there is Robert Burck, better known as the Naked Cowboy, "The World's Most Celebrated Entertainer."  Burck was a tourist attraction on Times Square for many years, his most recent ambition to be "the wealthiest person who has ever lived," presumably edging out Mithridates, Darius and Cyrus (kings of Persia), Ptolemy of Egypt, and Porfirio Rubirosa (the good always die young - in Ferraris). For $500, you can be married in Times Square by the "Reverend Naked Cowboy," although his official website makes no mention of his presidential aspirations nor does it outline a policy agenda. Naked is a notoriously litigious cowpoke, the stuff America's political heritage is made of.

Robert Burck: The next Johnson?

Last, though in this field it's always hard to tell who might be least, I give you Jimmy ("The Rent is Too Damn High") McMillan, who has retooled a failed mayoral bid in New York City (2009) and a failed gubernatorial bid in New York State (2010) as a Republican presidential run. Some people just can't be rejected by enough other people at one time to be happy. This tonsorial artifact and curiosity of the barber's skill has since shifted his sights to President Obama, warning that, "If you don't do your job right, I am coming at you." McMillan filed a legal notice against the New York City Board of Elections for removing the word "damn" from his party's name on mayoral ballots, arguing that from all he can find in the King James Bible, "Damn is the word of God."

McMillan explained to a gathering of Young Republicans at New York University, in a flotsam of prepositions and pronouns adrift of their referents, that, “Daddy gotta do what Daddy gotta do [when] you can’t afford to live here, you can’t afford to buy that," adding, "It’s easy to talk to you cuz you like my kids.” Presumably McMillan has sired several upper-class white children who can afford the freight at NYU. And for many presidential aspirants, conversation is always much easier once grammatical constraints are scuttled.

On second thought, I may have taken too dim a view - maybe things won't be so dismal this year, at least until the wheat of sanctimony is threshed from the chaff of comedy. I'll even take back what I said earlier about Sarah Palin. If she runs, that'll be fun, too. But for my money, it's the Naked Cowboy by a furlong (or a farsang, whichever is longer).

 Vote Naked

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