Sunday, October 17, 2010

Losing the Ability to Cringe

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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 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.


Karen in Ohio said...

The world has truly gone mad.

In their effort to not look "elitist" the right has gone so far overboard that they are dragging the bottom.

Charlieopera said...

Even I can’t argue with this ... although the idea of liberal democrats continuing to support an administration that has ignored them (because of fear the other major party will win) makes me cringe. Then again, I must be part of that “professional left” the administration takes issue with (the left that expected change, not more of the same {on steroids}). Give this to the tea party, they sure got the GOP’s attention while liberal democrats continue to reward those who ignore them. While Dems have to count on T-partiers taking control of the GOP to have any chance for a 2012 victory (2010 has already been forfeited--see Jon Stewart’s take on Democratic ads that condemn Obama and Pelosi last week {so much for crossing those political divides}), all that does for the left is provide one-liners to bash T-partiers with. Is it about one-liners or actual progress? Sometimes it seems very difficult to determine.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Has there ever been candidates with less brain power than this group? With less humanity. I am so ashamed to be an American every time one of these TPers open their mouth. We have a candidate in my district who attended college briefly and helps her daddy run his business. And she is likely to win.
The post-racism era turned out to be the return of overt racism. Same with gays.
Like the fact that O'Donell like Palin could not name a single Supreme Court case.

Charlieopera said...

I think at least “some” of the problem is those who can name the supreme court cases don’t seem to be getting anything done for anyone other than Wall Street. I may not agree they have it right (the TP’ers; whether it is racism or not) but the ones with all the degrees don’t act in my middle class (and falling fast) interest at all. I think (and sure hope) that’s where independents see the Democratic Party as all talk and no action while 3rd party candidates get condemned by those we’d think would support them (liberal democrats) as a party that CAN NEVER WIN, EVER. But there are those of us who say Never say Never ...

Karen in Ohio said...

Charlie, you certainly show your own bias when you consistently pair the words "liberal" and "Democrats". They are not the same thing, any more than "neocon" and "Republicans" are.

Charlieopera said...

Karen, you may be right. I vote socialist these days ... will probably vote for Nader in 2012. I guess my point is there isn't much difference between what the GOP did and what the Dems are doing. Extract the rhetoric and look at the facts and it's 6 of one, half a dozen of the other.

michael said...

In a two party system where each party has proven the other is unfit to govern it is natural the public turns to characters from Monty Python's Flying Circus to save us all.

Jerry House said...

One of the reasons Iott gave for donning the Nazi costume was to bond with his son. And, I ask, with my most snarky face, how can family bonding be cringe-worthy?

Patti, the reason O'Donnell went all Palin on the Supreme Court question was that she was prepped by Palin's advisors.

Anonymous said...

And they should have seen the question coming. So they're morons, too.

Charlieopera said...

About that cringing ...

Dana King said...

I'm way left of the Tea Partiers, and I'm cringing because Iott is an American. These guys seem to think being in the Waffen SS was like getting assigned to the Signal Corps in the American Army: we need radio operators, the next five guys through the door go to Signal Corps. It's not like the Germans were arbitrarily rounding up basic Wehrmacht conscripts when they ran short of genocidal psychopaths. Not just anybody got into those outfits.

Welcome back, Charlie.