With the most active voters in Iowa and New Hampshire increasingly discontented with the status quo as the beginning of presidential primary voting is just days away, the Democratic and Republican parties are increasingly gripped by familiar syndromes even as they may be turning to once seemingly impossible choices.
The Democrats in the first two contest states are increasingly gripped by an angry yet hopeful utopianism.
The Republicans, in turn, are gravitating toward an angry and increasingly defiant authoritarianism, the Fox News style reaching its full political flowering in ways evidently unanticipated by would-be kingmaker Rupert Murdoch.
Might we end up with a wild fight for the presidency between two or three rather curious New Yorkers? A Brooklynite turned "back-to-the-land" Vermont socialist who honeymooned in the Soviet Union and has far less executive experience than Sarah Palin vs. a fact-free braying bully boy billionaire real estate and gambling mogul bizarrely backed by evangelicals would be crazy enough. Toss in another New Yorker, a billionaire "daddy knows best" ex-mayor and media mogul who is no class traitor and we get the full banana republic experience.
Sarah Palin's endorsement of Donald Trump was a natural. Eminently spoofable, Palin plays here on Saturday Night Live much as she does for real. Note how SNL banks credit with a would-be Trump regime by presenting The Donald as a shrewd and reasonable observer.
Of course, none of that's happened yet. But we're on the verge.
Likeliest to happen is the nomination of Donald Trump. If he wins Iowa, where he's slightly ahead of ultra-right Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Trump looks likely, barring a big surprise, to run the table of the early contests. Trump is way ahead in New Hampshire, South Carolina and other early states. He could easily become unstoppable for the Republican presidential nomination.
Last week's endorsement event with Sarah Palin crystallized what's happened to the once Grand Old Party.
The only time I yelled at my old friend Steve Schmidt, the Arnold Schwarzenegger campaign manager who took on the direction of John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, was the morning he and others successfully pushed the selection of Palin to be the Republican vice presidential nominee. About which choice, as we know now, he soon had famous second thoughts. McCain never really had a shot against Barack Obama, and the gyrations which McCain, whom I supported in 2000, undertook to take down the Democrat just redounded against him.
Palin was the institutionalization of what Republican operatives had been playing with for years, both with Fox News and with various other dog whistle projects; stirring up, aggregating, and mobilizing an aggressive know-nothingism. Trumpism is just the next big step. The monster has turned on its creators, leaving the likes of Jeb Bush and company, for all the big money they've raised, lost in the underbrush.
Hillary Clinton is no feckless Jeb Bush, of course, she just hasn't shut down Bernie Sanders as she might have done.
In fact, if she hangs on to win Iowa next Monday, she will likely be just fine in the Democratic race, despite a likely big Sanders win in near-home territory New Hampshire. But if she loses in Iowa, she's got a big fight on her hands.
Whether you like it or not, Sanders has an important message. And it's based on fact, unlike most of the spew from Trump and his ilk.
His biggest problem is he's just not very plausible as President of the United States. He's a protest leader. He hasn't got the bandwidth. Hillary, notwithstanding all my not infrequent disagreements, does have the bandwidth.
Unlike Hillary, who's been the target of non-stop Republican/media attacks, no one has been going after good ole Bernie. They would love to run against him, just as the Nixon crew wanted to run against George McGovern in 1972. So citing polls showing him running as well against Republicans as Clinton is wildly out of context and simply non-serious.
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg -- who gets kudos for working with Arnold Schwarzenegger on climate change and renewable energy and demerits for trying to elect fellow billionaire Meg Whitman over Jerry Brown -- thinks he sees an independent path to the White House between a socialist Democrat and an authoritarian Republican. He reportedly says he'd spend a billion dollars from his own fortune.
Bernie Sanders is trying to close out his Iowa campaign in prime cause mode. The use of the Simon & Garfunkel classic "America" is enthusiastically approved by its songwriter.
Banana split, anyone?
I've learned there is no profit in telling the very rich not to waste their money on foolish political ventures, but that seems a very illusory path.
Much as I love spectacle and entertainment, a three-way race between Sanders, Trump and Bloomberg seems a further lurch toward banana republic status. (Not that the Democrats might not look to Vice President Joe Biden or Governor Jerry Brown if Hillary goes down.)
The Republicans will be plenty entertaining enough, all on their own. But not in a very fun sort of way.
Just before the Palin endorsement event, the British Parliament debated a citizen petition to ban Trump from the UK for his consistent hate speech. They did not, of course, but members of parliament left, right, and center all made their contempt for Trump crystalline in its clarity.
So as we push forward, given how things are shaping up this week and for the presidential election season as a whole, I thought I'd share with you something very important that Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey taught me a few decades ago.
How to drink whiskey all night without passing out.
To be the best and most appropriate host or guest possible in this whacked-out campaign season, begin by pouring a whiskey neat. Slam it right on down. The buzz will build immediately.
But after that, since you don't want to be totally drunk and do want to look and feel cool, pour yourself a whiskey and soda on the rocks. The bubbles really add to the sense of conviviality others will expect of you as you survey the political wreckage. And you will feel cool.
Keep sipping, not chugging, these whiskeys throughout the night. But every hour on the hour, have some coke.
The up from the caffeine and sugar, not to mention that famous secret formula and, again, the bubbles, will counter-balance the down from the hard liquor.
Repeat throughout the evening and beyond and feel the glow of your social success.
And rise above the bizarre spectacle we're witnessing.
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