You can always count on American politics to throw up a good laugh and boy, has Cliven Bundy fit the bill just nicely in recent weeks.
But the source of the humour, for me anyway, hasn’t been the man himself even though he is involved in an armed stand-off with the federal government over his long-standing non-payment of “grazing fees”.
The true mirth-merchants in the saga are the good ol US Republican party and their propaganda machine Fox News for whom Bundy’s “cause” was like a red rag to bullshit, with their senior host Sean Hannity taking centre stage.
What comedy there was to be had when it turned out (much to all of our surprise – not) that Bundy was in actual fact an ignorant racist.
I tell you…Usain Bolt couldn’t have run away from the man faster than the Republicans did.
In fairness, having heard Bundy’s interviews on national networks since his racist rant took YouTube by storm, it seems that the GOP at least got one of their spin doctors to work with him to try and haul things back a little bit, but the damage was done.
So the question has to be asked…why did they give a whack job like Bundy such a national stage in the first place? Because there is a massive election coming up in November, that’s why.
The US President is elected every four years but in between there are what are known as “Midterms” when a lot of the seats in both of the other executive branches of government are decided. The Republicans currently have control of the Senate, but since state legislatures around the country are unable to gerrymander constituencies for the Upper House, the Democrats have a fighting chance to hold sway there, and currently do.
But even that isn’t a sure thing anymore, and the GOP’s goal has to be to seize control of both houses to make President Obama’s last two years in power virtually worthless when it comes to getting anything done.
For this, they need to persuade all the Cliven Bundys across the country to go out and vote, because if only the uber rich people who really control the Republican party voted, they wouldn’t even clear 5% let alone close to 50.
Of course for me it is an endless source of amusement to see their faith in the Nevada rancher so hopelessly backfire on them, especially when Jon Stewart gets in on the rib-poking. But there’s also a downside in the whole story when I put it in the context of the current state of politics here in Ireland.
The US Democrat Party is far from perfect, but one thing I have noticed in recent years is that it is extremely good at unifying its message. There’s a consistency to the narrative which you get from TV presenters like Rachel Maddow, online news sources like the Huffington Post, podcasts like The Majority Report and even comedy programmes like The Daily Show which is refreshing to say the least.
It is this consistent output that has the likes of the Koch brothers going to such great lengths to both discredit them and push their own candidates by any means necessary. You could even argue that their hasty rush toward Bundy was a compliment to the American “left*”.
Do you see any nut-jobs getting such support here in Ireland? Not so much. Why?
Going by some of the million or so placards which are pinned up on billboards around Dublin for the upcoming Irish version of the midterms, there is a party called the “United Left”. That term, on this island anyway, is quite possibly a bigger joke than the entire Bundy saga.
To say the anti-establishment movement is fractured in this country is a gross understatement. First, you have the Labour Party in government.
Now let me be clear…I do NOT believe Labour are truly anti-establishment; they represent the bigger unions, whom I consider to be part of the establishment. But they ARE considered “left”, and thus would attract a sizeable chunk of the votes of those who wish to vote that way (including myself at the last election).
Sadly, although it is grossly unfair to pin austerity entirely on Labour (in fact it would probably be much worse if Fine Gael were alone in government), they have allowed themselves to have this done to them by the mostly-conservative Irish media while offering precious little themselves to alter the public perception.
Then you have the other high profile organisations & figures on the “left”. The Greens? Already hacked to pieces after getting into bed with Fianna Fáil. Sinn Féin? They may be anti-establishment, but a different type of establishment. They’re not “left” in any sense of the word, because in no way is “nationalist” a sense of the word IMO. Yet they still seem to be hoovering up many of the votes being jettisoned by Labour and must feel like they are within touching distance of actual government. Ming Flanagan & Mick Wallace? Whatever good they may have done as TDs has been forever lost in the ether as they have allowed their public personas to become caricatures.
So do the pro-establishment parties here even need a figure like Cliven Bundy to rally their base? Not in the slightest. It doesn’t hurt them that The Iona Institute are pursuing their pitiful “Christians are the real victims in Irish society” narrative, but on a broad scale it isn’t really necessary.
I am convinced that Ireland has it’s own Jon Stewart, it’s own Arianna Huffington, it’s own Rachel Maddow, even it’s own Barack Obama. The question is – does anyone have clout, cash & cojones to give them even half the support that Bundy briefly enjoyed? JLP
* = one of the Prime Directives of this blog is to steer away from the usage of “left” and “right” to describe political discourse but sometimes on longer posts I feel have to resort to it with inverted commas my only refuge.