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The New Stepford Wives Party, Starring Sarah Palin (Also Gidget)

4 years ago
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I loves me some mama grizzly Sarah Palin and her adorable Republican bear cubs running for national office -- Delaware's Christine "Never Mind What I Said Back Then" O'Donnell, South Dakota's Kristi "I Forgot My Court Date" Noem and Nevada's Sharron "Unemployed People Are Spoiled" Angle.

And no, I don't love them because they're "unelectable." If you said that, bite your tongue. MSNBC pundit Chris Matthews bet Politics Daily's own David Corn that O'Donnell will win in November. Maybe that's a fake-out, but at this point in American politics, the fake is real, the real is fake, and the law of unintended consequences is ramped up into high gear.

Recently a Politics Daily commenter observed a "strange and disturbing trend" in America: "under-qualified, ultra-right-wing candidates with a programmed message. Fairly telegenic, usually female. Beloved by soccer moms. Married to husbands with good jobs. The Stepford Wives Party, except that instead of obedience to their husbands, they are here to do the bidding of their corporate paymasters."

Sarah PalinCall it Stepford plus Gidget, now that we have the effervescent, baby-faced Christine O'Donnell added to the mix.

Another commenter brushed away criticism of O'Donnell's financial baggage. So what if O'Donnell had trouble paying her mortgage and student loans? So have we. This is America today. Christine O'Donnell is us.

There it is, in a nutshell -- the "really bad Disney movie" that Matt Damon bemoaned when Sarah Palin first splashed on the scene in 2008. That movie has gone into post-production, and the sequels are already in the works. The fact that we're even talking about O'Donnell's tax lien and Kristi Noem's awful driving record instead of more pressing issues says it all.

The other night Rachel Maddow suggested that perhaps we've entered an era of politics as performance art. Although she was referring to Carl "Angry Man" Paladino, the Republican candidate for governor of New York, she might as well have been talking about the babes coming off the Republican assembly line.

How did we get here?

You could argue that women were left behind in the political arena for centuries and maybe that's why they don't sound as polished. Even now, many women in politics inherited their pedigree from a father or husband.

In my own neck of the woods, Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan was running for U.S. Senate when he died in a plane crash, and his widow Jean Carnahan went on to serve for a year in his place, and now their daughter Robin Carnahan is Missouri's Democratic candidate for Senate. Over the state line in Kansas, Gov. (and former GOP presidential nominee) Alf Landon taught his daughter Nancy Landon Kassabaum well. She became a U.S. senator.

Some female politicians not only got elected, they transcended the coat-tail asterisk. Former First Lady and current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pushed that envelope. Washington pushed back, but Clinton stood her ground. She had brains. She had guts. She had experience. She had convictions but also the ability to compromise. She was qualified for high office.

Then out of nowhere came Sarah Palin, as John McCain's veep choice in 2008. Half the nation cheered, and the other half reeled in terror at the prospect of an inexperienced small-town politician someday having the codes to our nukes. The Republicans lost the 2008 battle for the White House, but Palin emerged a conservative rock star.

Is Democrat Chris Coons more qualified than Christine O'Donnell to serve in the Senate? Hell, yeah! Infinitely. But now it's all about girl power. And the girls are circling the wagons.

Jeri Thompson, wife of Fred Thompson, wrote in the American Spectator: "The sexism issues aside, it's time for the Washington GOP establishment to man up and stop sulking over losing -- no, getting walloped -- by a woman they continue to insist is unqualified despite the fact that she has a pretty big win under her belt under pretty difficult circumstances."

My colleague Matt Lewis disagrees. "Sadly, it appears some 'conservative' ladies have learned from the left that if you cry discrimination, you can change the subject, and undermine even legitimate questions and concerns."

I would like to add that 30,561 votes in a state of 621,746 registered voters hardly counts as a walloping. But Ms. Thompson probably enjoyed writing about the walloping of men. You go, girl, and all that.

For the moment I'll put aside how O'Donnell's undeniable charisma is no more relevant today than George Bush's beer-buddy vibe was in 2000. It made him electable, but in retrospect many Americans would agree that Bush's views on foreign policy and the economy were much more important.

But here's what I love about this Republican parade of woefully inexperienced eye candy: They are stirring the pot. Prior to the arrival of Sarah Palin, Washington politics was as static, heavy and inert as the cement shoes of a rival mobster.

Ninety-eight percent of men and women in Congress get re-elected. Decades of gerrymandering and pork-barrel spending led to congressional stagnation that would satisfy the party elite of the former Soviet Union.

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) limited himself to two terms and encouraged his colleagues to do the same. "You can find 100 competent people to do these jobs year in, year out," he told NBC news.

If breaking into Congress is hell, staying there is no better. The fundraising never stops. "You could be Abraham Lincoln," Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) told the Washington Post, "but if you don't have the heart of a telemarketer, you're not going to make it to Congress."

Daniel Newman of thinks politicians should, like NASCAR drivers, plaster themselves with the logos of the corporations that sponsor them. Sadly, there is no logo for the public interest. That is our national shame. And our challenge.

Oh, there's plenty of talk about campaign reform. Action is what's missing.

I could do it in two seconds: Outlaw political advertising, and require media to give away time to candidates. There, done. Why hasn't that happened? I suspect lobbyists for media corporations have something to do with it. In any event, our Supreme Court would probably nix such a law.

But it's more than just the media companies. Every special interest group with any pull in Washington depends on prodigious fundraising and marketing to maintain and gain advantage. It's an open secret, as the aptly named attests. That's what happens if you put the fox in charge of fox-proofing the henhouse.

And that's the way things have been for eons. Till now.

My humble predictions:

1) The Tea Party will not split off from the Republican party. Why should they, when they've made inroads that are now bearing fruit? Unless Republicans do something fast and drastic to reclaim their party for live-and-let-live fiscal conservatives enjoying martinis at the country club, the GOP of the future will be anti-gay, pro-life, pro-gun conservative Christians.

2) Once the Republican Party has completed its transformation, horrified moderates will defect to the Democratic Party, which will at last openly cop to being the centrist party it now is, further alienating liberals.

3) Liberals and left-leaning libertarians will split off from the Democrats and form a third party. Liberals already feel dismissed by the Democrats and will conclude they have nothing to lose. Joining them will be disaffected Republicans who reject extreme conservatism but don't like the business-as-usual approach of the Dems either.

There are real, almost insurmountable reasons third parties have, in the past, barely made a dent in our restricted-ballot, winner-take-all form of elected government. But recent polls show that both Republicans and Democrats feel under-represented in Washington, and support for a third major political party is growing.

Today neither the Democrats nor the Republicans stand for fiscal responsibility, accountability, fairness, clean elections and support for the middle class. Maybe someday culture wars will give way to these all-American values. The face of such a party might well be feminine, but I don't think it will be a Sarah Palin. Or a Hillary Clinton. More like an Elizabeth Warren.

There's a term for our current political turmoil. "Polarized pluralism" is a "symptom of a sick two-party system." It happens when too much power lands in the hands of the extreme right and/or extreme left, and the vast bulk of the population -- moderates -- get pushed aside. Says Wikipedia: "One side will have more influence than the other, creating a strong trend to follow them. The extremist group with the most control eventually gains full control of the state. Compromises eventually become nonexistent, and the controlling power tramples the opposition on all issues."

Polarized pluralism doesn't sound like a bad Disney movie to me. More like "Nightmare on Elm Street." It's not a movie I want to see.

Follow Donna Trussell on Twitter.
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