OFF THE GRID

Joe Barton, Sharron Angle, Rand Paul, et al: Should We Be Worried?

Jun 18, 10 | 7:56 AM   byMichael Wolff
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All the pieces are in place to tell an extraordinary story of political meltdown and historic implosion—a tale of nuttiness and know-nothing extremism on a national level—but nobody is telling it. There is, rather, a kind of tolerant literalism—the neighbors are at it again—in the way each new holy-moly incident and utterance is reported and digested.

The latest is a Republican congressman, Joe Barton, coming to the defense of BP—furiously decrying the pressure the White House applied to the company to get it to put up the money to compensate people in the Gulf for all the oil it is spilling. Political pressure, Barton is saying, should not weigh on a sovereign corporation. Forgetting the long history of politicians jaw-boning private industry, why would you say such thing at such a moment in time? Only because some bizarre sense of religious mission and purity has overcome all political instincts and reasoning.

We have, too, in the last few days, learned that the extraordinary Sharron Angle, the Republican opponent of Nevada’s Senator, Harry Reid, has been earnestly discussing the case for armed insurrection. And, of course, there's Rand Paul, the slap-happy candidate for the Senate in Kentucky, and his purist’s determination to resist any incursion on the rights of private property, even if that means having to reject civil rights legislation on the books for half a century.

Curiously, there is, I suppose, something to be said for all of these people. They stick to their beliefs. They seem absolutely—helplessly—in earnest. These people are not just further versions of Sarah Palin. These aren’t people pandering to the base. They haven’t sold out to expediency. This isn’t politics as usual. These are genuine nut cases—or innocents.

So what to make of this? These are just gaffes, yes? You can’t honestly take these people seriously. Actually, it would be unfair to take them seriously. These aren’t people playing with a full deck, obviously.

Still, while with one nutter you might afford to be generous, or sheepishly embarrassed, now, it seems to me, that, with something like an unleashing of the bizarre and discordant, a sense almost of permission to be way out there, we ought to note what’s going on in a different way—the disturbance is clearly spreading. Ten years after the fact, it’s a sort of fin-de-siècle moment, a feeling of darkness at noon, with all the appropriate apocalyptic characters in place.

But nobody seems to be all that stirred or fazed or amused by signs of the world ending.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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