I like democracy the way Tila Tequila likes MySpace: generally and in principle, but almost never when it appears in individual manifestations. Winston Churchill, who is fortunately dead and unable to see himself name-checked immediately after Tila Tequila, remarked that “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” Now that the internet has threatened to turn our mediated discourse into a 24-hour conversation with the average voter, we are better equipped than ever to answer the fundamental question of American democracy: are we fucking stupid or what? The results of the most recent Newsweek/Daily Beast poll may surprise you. As usual, “surprise” means “grimly confirm.”
Whether you read the Times or the Wall Street Journal, informed consensus has it that this country is in trouble. Our monster deficit increasingly undercuts economic growth, while our mounting foreign debts threaten to make us grad students at the table of nations, disregarded except when we’re subjected to lectures on the importance of industry. We need to stop spending money, stat, but at the same time we’ve got an economy in shambles, an infrastructure wearing through and at least two major cities (Detroit, New Orleans) half abandoned. Oh yeah—we’ve also embarked on two land wars in Asia. In this time of crisis, with a new president who rode to office as the explicit champion of American hope, we have opted to spend the past year arguing heatedly about the particulars of a health care reform package that we never passed. In the meantime, we managed to degrade our discourse to the point where the ruling party is regularly compared to Nazis, the president is accused of not being an American citizen, and even routine political appointments are ransomed for congressional pork, at least until somebody gets caught. At our time of crisortunity, when we were faced with the chance and the obligation to remake America for the twenty-first century, we as a nation have boldly stepped forward onto our own dicks, then fallen into the cat box. Which raises an interesting political question: What the fuck is our problem?
The good people at the Michigan-based company Sarcasm, Inc. have invented something called the “sarc mark,” a punctuation mark that indicates sarcasm in written correspondence. For only $1.99, you can download the sarc mark and use it in your emails, text messages and Facebook status updates, so that people will finally stop thinking you’re so glad your flight got delayed. The problem of conveying irony in text can be especially vexing, as anyone whose girlfriend has an attachment disorder will attest. We have a tendency, when we are hastily tapping out half-funny text messages at red lights, to simply transcribe what we would say in speech, and our sarcastic speech is augmented by tone of voice, rolling eyes, the jerkoff motion and other flourishes that keyboards don’t have. That being said, a punctuation mark that indicates sarcasm is an awful idea. At best, it will point out at the end of each sentence what dicks we all are. At worst, it will gradually destroy our ability to think. Normally I’m happy to pay $1.99 for that service (episode of Jersey Shore on iTunes) but dammit, some things are sacred, and the western tradition of written irony is one of them.
He’s been wrong before, but when David Brooks says you’re a nationwide movement, you’re either Soccer Moms in the 2004 general election or a real thing. In Monday’s New York Times, Brooks alleges that the Tea Party movement is the latter. After opening with his usual overview of the prevailing sociopolitical winds for the last thirty to 100 years, he gets to the money shot. “Every single idea associated with the educated class has grown more unpopular over the past year,” he writes. For the moment, Brooks has declined to enumerate which instruments he uses to measure the popularity of ideas, but he at least sounds right. “The educated class believes in global warming, so public skepticism about global warming is on the rise,” he says. “The educated class supports abortion rights, so public opinion is shifting against them. The educated class supports gun control, so opposition to gun control is mounting.” Those committed to responsible argument will object to Brooks’s questionable use of the word so, which makes his theory the cause of his evidence, but as and statements his list still draws an unsettling connection. When Brooks points out that the Tea Partiers are defined by what they are against, and that most of what they are against can be grouped under “the concentrated power of the educated class,” he introduces a framework as useful as it is terrifying.
Okay, this is weird. Rasmussen Reports announced yesterday that their most recent poll shows the Tea Party beating the Republican Party by a five-point margin on a three-way generic ballot. A generic ballot pits nameless candidates against one another in a theoretical election; in this case, Rasmussen asked “If congressional elections were held tomorrow, would you vote for the Republican, Democrat, or Tea Party candidate from your district?” Democrats led the pack with 36% of the vote, the Tea Party got 23%, and Republicans finished third with 18%. Astute observers will notice that leaves 22% of those polled undecided, and also that the Tea Party does not, uh, exist. I assume the same poll found that Americans overwhelmingly reject cap-and-trade in favor of having Bigfoot drink carbon out of clouds, and want the government to stay out of health insurance so that costs can be determined by the invisible hand of David Bowie in Labyrinth.