NEW YORK—Witches vs. bearded Marxists. Actors vs. hicks. Toon Town vs. Parodyville.
The world isn't too much with us. We have left the planet.
As we race toward the mid-term elections, our political conversation has devolved beyond the silly to the absurd—and the sharks are jumping sharks. Is it even possible to have a serious conversation anymore?
In a debate last Wednesday night, Republican Christine O'Donnell looked at her opponent for the U.S. Senate, Chris Coons—a clean-shaven, shiny-pated Rhodes scholar/attorney/Yale Divinity grad—and said that his 1985 op-ed titled "Chris Coons: The Making of a Bearded Marxist" should send shivers up the spines of all voters.
She was referring to Coons' own long-ago admission that he became a Democrat after discovering economic disparity during a college-era visit to Kenya. What is it about Kenya? Coons' insistence that he wrote the op-ed as a joke simply isn't credible, if you read it. It was sincere and thoughtful. He clearly was transformed by his experience, which included living with a poor Kenyan family and studying under a Marxist professor, but this doesn't have much bearing on who he is today.
I can't speak for an entire generation, but I had plenty of Marxist professors and was deeply moved by the economic disparities in the world, which is why I was a Democrat back in the day. But I grew up to be a happy capitalist. And never mind that we're meanwhile supposed to have equal patience with O'Donnell's youthful declaration that she had dabbled in witchcraft.
It seems to me the young Marxist and the young witch cancel each other out. But what about now? Can we hold each responsible for who and what they are and say today?
If so, then we have ample cause for shivers. O'Donnell, when pressed about whether she believed in evolution, dodged the question and said the decision about whether to teach evolution or creationism should be left to local school districts and that what she believes isn't relevant. But of course it is.
Coons' palpable uneasiness doubtless was owing equally to his contempt for her shallow knowledge and to his inability to challenge her without seeming a bully. Instead, he seemed merely condescending and snarky. If the witch and Marxist were a wash, the Everyday American triumphed over the elite.
Ditto the scene in Las Vegas Thursday night, where tea party candidate Sharron Angle managed to hold her own against Harry Reid. Of course, to be fair, all Angle and O'Donnell had to do was not be weird—hardly a high bar for public office.
Political parties, meanwhile, have distilled themselves so completely to their essences that they have caricatured themselves into cartoonish self-parody. Witness the recent town hall wherein President Obama's audience was culled from a casting call and the Republican ad campaign in West Virginia that sought "hicky" people. Oy, as we say down South.
Republicans and Democrats are so busy pointing fingers, they fail to see what is plainly obvious. They are mirror images of each other and each is equally cynical and corrupt.
"A Conversation with President Obama," the town hall meeting co-sponsored by MTV/BET/CMT, featured an hour-long chat with young people, i.e. the president's base of last resort. Prior to the event, the casting website Backstage.com put out a call for "males and females 18-plus" to fill out a questionnaire to include "your name, phone number, hometown, school attending, your job and what issues, if any, you are interested in, or passionate about."
Well, it beats risking another encounter with Velma Hart, the middle-aged African-American woman who, at another recent, less-scripted town hall meeting told Obama that she was "exhausted" defending him.
Lest the GOP lose itself in mirth, let's turn to the Republican casting call for people who are "hicky," presumably an endearing adjective referring to the behavioral attributes of "hicks"—aka ignorant, poor whites.
After days of denials, the National Republican Senatorial Committee had to acknowledge that a media consultant it hired, Jamestown Associates, had in fact put out the call for hicks to flesh out ads for the Senate race.
The political divide between Elites and Ordinary Americans has never been starker or more comical, or more resplendent with self-loathing. When even Republicans view their base as ignorant rednecks—and Democrats no longer try to conceal their reliance on artifice and propaganda—farce has become the new reality.
Kathleen Parker's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.