The vacuum left by former clown-in-chief George W. Bush, ably lead by sinister foil Dick Cheney, has spawned an entire army of wanna-be Bushes: the nicknames, the physical comedy, the blunders, the dumb look, seemingly every Republican is trying to replicate the act, and many are having quite some success.
Michael "Hip Hop" Steele is, of course, determined to run his own sideshow, actually for all intents and purposes the type of minstrel show that only the Republican Party still knows how to put on convincingly. The latest episode has Steele turning on Barack Obama for being elected because he is ... black. Perhaps this was payback for Steele's belated realization that Obama's shout-out at the White House Correspondents Dinner was more skewering than friendly. Whatever the case, Steele clearly forgot that when a similar accusation was thrown at him in 2006, he called its author "racist." As Steele put it recently: he is the "gift that keeps on giving."
The role of campaign clown in last year's general election was brilliantly embraced by Sarah Palin, whether she knew it or not. In fact, it appears that the Alaska Governor was called upon to deliver so much great material in such a short period of time that she has run out of funny things to say (and obviously never had anything else to say.) This explains why, not wanting a good name to go to waste, her daughter Bristol and husband Todd have been called to arms. Bristol, at least, seems pretty good at it, which is made easier by her new job: campaigning for teen abstinence, even as the unwed teenager mother goes to battle with her baby's teen father. The jury is still out on Todd, although, as Greta Van Susteren's presumably platonic recent man about town, he is potentially learning the trade from the best. The concern now is whether Sarah will ever return, or if the Republican men whose dormant sexuality she awoke with her naughty teacher appeal have definitely turned on her, disgusted, once again, by their own libido.
Last year's most prominent GOP primary comedian, Mike Huckabee, will undoubtedly try to stage a comeback: after all he did win the Iowa caucuses and deftly played up to Mitt Romney's robotically frightening straight man. That is until he gave a big "fuck you" to everyone and left for a paid gig in the Cayman Islands, a notorious offshore financial center. As for Romney, he is funny in his own way: never quite of the moment, his physical appearance stuck somewhere around 1955, and his politics always a year or two behind the curve despite his best market research investments. For instance, now that he has planted himself so firmly to the GOP's right that one gets the sense he may actually remain there for more than 18 months, a new foil has emerged. He is Utah Governor Jon Huntsman a moderate, proud Republican Mormon, whose dismissal of the party's evangelical Christian apparatchiks has once again left Romney looking stupid, weak and uncentered. In fact, so threateningly seductive is Huntsman that Obama is sending him to China as his ambassador, surely a bitter-sweet short-term victory for Romney.
On the subject of "fuck you's," John McCain, whom the mainstream media fell in love with years ago because he was such a jokester, has also delegated the task of pulling laughter out of thin air to his daughter. Meghan McCain, just a couple of years older than Bristol Palin, is, we are told, the future of the GOP because she loves the gays. That and because her momma's rich and her daddy's good looking, or at least powerful. She plays the role of the entitled American heiress perfectly, showing us how little she cares what we (or her GOP elders) think by going on national TV to say she likes sex and to twitter about loving her curves. McCain makes the Bush daughters look demure, which is a shame: we had so much hope for them taking over their father's mantle, but McCain looks like she will be fun too.
What is especially creepy about the GOP's new breed of clowns is that the party has combined its historical ability to elevate unself-conscious comics with some kind of twisted demographic outreach. Perhaps Republicans have decided that people who are not old white men should be given the opportunity to be ridiculous too, or perhaps it is just a coincidence, but it is as if no group is to be without its clown. This takes quite some juggling, as women and ethnic minorities are pretty thin on the ground among Republicans. The shift is especially notable as, for years, Bush was so insecure that there was little room for other truly absurd characters in the GOP, just for sinister foils (dozens of neo-cons), their tools (Colin Powell) and a trapeze artist here or there (Condoleezza Rice comes to mind.) But now, in addition to Steele, the Palins, and the younger McCain, we also have Governor Bobby Jindal, whose comedic timing was so unexpected that months later we still can't get enough of his response to Obama's weekly radio address. Of course, that is not how the party quite sees it: once a rising young conservative Christian star, Jindal seems to have been exiled to Louisiana's financial and political miasma, except for a brief appearance at the National Council for a New America (another catchy new Republican idea.)
This should be a lesson for the other bright young things whom the Republican Party throws at us with hopeful abandon to see if they will stick. Here's looking at you Rep. Eric Cantor, GOP whip and last Jewish Republican in Congress, recently branded as misguided, weak-kneed and a scam by conservatives for launching a "listening tour" to find out what Americans really think, just six months after Americans told the world what they really think (see National Council for a New America above.) Right there, Cantor is already finding his funny legs. Two other up-and-coming Republican politicians are about to face off for the open Florida Senate seat which will provide a lovely clash of demographics and politics. On the left, Gov. Charlie Crist is a caricature of a closeted gay white man of his generation: flawlessly suave, fit, forever tan, a good walker, and (we thought) a lifelong bachelor after a brief flirtation of a marriage to a woman decades ago. The laughter reached fever pitch late last year, though, when amid talk of a national future, he arranged for a shotgun wedding (minus the shot) to a New York socialite who is a woman. It is not so much that the Republican party lacks closeted gay men, but it is a remarkable feat that they found someone willing and able to play the part so exquisitely in their ever-expanding circus. On the right, his opponent will be equally caricatural: the uber-conservative young Cuban-American buck Marco Rubio, about whom we know little except that he wants to abolish most federal taxes, is against any contact with Cuba and endorsed Huckabee in 2008, so there is plenty of humorous potential there. Having witnessed first-hand the astounding electoral success of her mentor Romney, eBay founder and rising star (by virtue of her fortune and willingness to spend) Meg Whitman is trying to buy an office of her own, Governor of California. Whitman makes Tom DeLay look charismatic and pleasant, so it isn't likely that we will be getting many laughs out of that race, but you never know: watching her tread tortuously on the social issues that her party values so much and Californians could care less about should be entertaining. As should her political dance with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The GOP's big top is not limited to the next generation of comics, of course. Newt Gingrich, for one, has the jolly/sad face of a clown, and has mastered the profession's slapstick humor. The thrice-married, multiple two-timing lothario has recently embraced the mysticism of Catholicism. He recently said of Speaker Nancy Pelosi that she is "despicable, dishonest vicious [and] a trivial politician, viciously using partisanship for the narrowest of purposes, and she dishonors the Congress by her behavior" (yes, Gingrich said that.) He thinks he can be president. In all likelihood, Gingrich is the one who taught Steele how to become the gift that keeps on giving. There are also those whose ambitions are limited to keeping their current job, not to lead the GOP, and they provide great amusement too: Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky ("I had little green doctors pounding on my back"); Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, whose diaper fetish extends to mentioning them in campaign commercials; Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who wants his state to secede from the United States; the guys at the Republican National Committee who came within a hair of calling for the Democratic Party to be renamed the Democrat Socialist Party; and so on.
The Democrat Socialist Party itself is not free of clowns, of course. Sadly, Obama's successor in the Senate is one of them. Joe Lieberman (not technically a Democrat, granted) is another. Ironically, Senator-elect Al Franken of Minnesota has gone from being a clown to being a serious and thoughtful politician. But there are simply not enough prominently insane Democrats to offset the GOP's seemingly unending string of buffoons. Pelosi, for one, should be happy and relieved that Gingrich is leading the charge against her: one would be hard-pressed to find a less credible opponent. This is a good thing for the Democratic Party, as it remains secure in the knowledge that its own funny business is at little risk of exposure, but at some point, the Republican circus will have overstayed its welcome or collapsed on itself. Either way, it will be replaced by an opposition that will be less inept than the current GOP. Until then, though, we will just have to sit back and enjoy the spectacle.