Howard Dean wasn’t trying to insult anyone when he went all “Beeyaaaaawwwwww” on America in 2004, but it still cost him the Democratic nomination. In one crazed moment, he was able to take his political future and crush it into little pieces. He still was able to lead the Democratic National Committee for a few years, but that’s no consolation for the presidency.
Flash forward to the 2010 midterm campaign, and we’ve had more “beeyaw” moments than ever before. We’ve got the wicked witch of Delaware in Christine O’Donnell, a candidate for senate in Sharron Angle, who thinks Hispanics in Nevada look Asian, and the republican nominee for senate in Kentucky apparently spent time in his college years tying women up and making them worship the “Aqua Buddha.” In New York, Carl Paladino has insulted just about every demographic possible and local U.S. Congressman Maurice Hinchey may have joked about strangling someone — I say may have because no one is really sure what the heck he was doing.
Not only is this a treasure trove for the likes of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, it is also a condemnation of our current political climate. It only took a yell for Howard Dean to lose all hope, but now candidates are getting away with much more egregious offences — with little to no backlash.
I’m not defending the validity of some of the more outrageous claims floating around. In fairness, there’s no physical evidence that Rand Paul really was part of a secret society and worshipped an Aqua Buddha. And even if he did, it was 30 years ago, and now the guy goes to church every Sunday.
O’Donnell is a different story. Just when America forgot that she admitted to “dabbling” in witchcraft on a Bill Maher show in the 1990s, she came out with an ad that started with her saying “I am not a witch.” If she was going for a Nixon impression, she missed.
What happened in the last six years that makes these mishaps so much more acceptable? For one thing, our “gotcha journalism” has gotten out of control. Americans are now desensitized to anything groundbreaking, disappointing and wrong. We not only see that in these midterm elections but also in other places as well. When WikiLeaks dropped 400,000 classified Iraq war documents into the laps of the world Friday, I had to explain to people why something like that even mattered. Even worse was that the king of leaks himself, Daniel Ellsberg, had been on campus not 48 hours earlier. I had to spend most of the day explaining who he is, too.
American politics have become murkier because America has become murkier. A broken economy, an unjust war and an overall sense of disappointment with the system has us looking for something, anything, that can take us away from where we are now. But hey, if it takes a witch to fix this country, I’m all for it.
Rob Engelsman is a senior journalism major. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org