Last week, in my column about New York City's Naked Cowboy and his run for the presidency under the tea party banner, I mentioned that members of America's newest political movement were probably muttering "Don't let him be one of ours, don't let him be one of ours ..."
Turns out I was wrong. A lot of local TPers enthusiastically endorsed the idea of handing the leadership of the greatest country on Earth (including the codes to its nuclear weapons) to a guy whose chief claim to fame is playing songs on a public street in his underwear.
It was then I realized: These people have lost the ability to cringe.
By "cringe," I mean in the dictionary sense of "to recoil in distaste," especially from something that's over the top or downright embarrassing. The cringe reflex can be especially pronounced when that embarrassing act is perpetrated by someone with whom you might feel an affinity.
You cringe, for example, when a relative regales the guests at your dinner party with the gory details of his bladder problems. Celebrities often do things that make even their fans cringe, like Tom Cruise leaping up and down on Oprah's couch, Kanye West grabbing the microphone from Taylor Swift, or John Travolta making "Battlefield Earth."
People and organizations of all political stripes often do things that are cringe-worthy. Jon Stewart once memorably commemorated a particularly over-the-top ad by MoveOn.org by congratulating the group who'd "spent 10 years making even people who agree with you cringe."
But tea partiers? No cringe reflex whatsoever. Rick Perry suggests that Texas might secede if things don't go the Republicans' way? Not a problem! Christine O'Donnell says American companies are making mice with human brains? Hey, the media should quit picking on her by quoting things she actually said! Sarah Palin blatantly lies about "death panels" during the health care debate? Sa-rah! Sa-rah! Sa-rah!
The most recent demonstration of the cringe-free tea party occurred in Ohio's 9th District, where the TP candidate is a fellow named Rod Iott. A recent story in The Atlantic magazine talked about Iott's, shall we say, unusual hobby.
It seems that Iott belongs to a group of World War II re-enactors who like to dress up as the bad guys. Specifically, they like to don the uniforms of the 5th SS Panzer, or "Wiking" division, an elite Nazi force which, among their other activities, rounded up and murdered Jews in Ukraine, Austria and Hungary. The Atlantic story featured photos of Iott in full SS drag.
Imagine for a moment if a Democratic candidate, or any candidate for that matter, was photographed wearing the uniform of one of our country's enemies. Heck, right-wingers like Michelle Malkin flipped out over what they called "'jihadi chic" when Rachael Ray wore a black-and-white checked scarf in a Dunkin' Donuts commercial.
Imagine what they'd do if a picture surfaced of, say, Pennsylvania Senate candidate Joe Sestak dressed in a '50s-era Soviet commissar's uniform. Or, more to the point, imagine what Pennsylvania Democrats would do. They'd cringe. They might even start thinking, "We're sunk."
But not your TPers. While some conservative Republicans like Minority Whip Eric Cantor have repudiated Iott, and the National Republican Congressional Committee has removed him from its list of "contenders" on its website, Iott's county GOP chief still backs him, calling the story "political mudslinging."
Iott, for his part, insists that there's nothing odd or untoward in dressing up like an SS trooper and running around the woods pretending to slaughter enemies of the Reich. After all, as the Wiking re-enactor group says, "no matter how unsavory the Nazi government was, the front-line soldiers of the Waffen-SS (in particular the foreign volunteers) gave their lives for their loved ones and a basic desire to be free."
Right. It was everyone else they wanted to oppress, except the Jews, whom they wanted to exterminate. I guess it's that kind of shamelessness, that ability to rattle off specious claptrap that makes venerating a band of murdering fascists seem like a reasonable thing to do, that gave Iott his training for politics in general and the tea party in particular.
And it's the TP's inability or unwillingness to realize just how cringe-worthy that is that makes them so ridiculous.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Losing the Ability to Cringe
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