No part of life is exempt from silliness, and a lot of times that’s a good thing. Monty Python might not have existed if not for silliness. There’d certainly be no need for channels like Cartoon Network and Comedy Central, or all those cute animal websites, in a world without silliness.
I may cry. I wouldn’t want to live in such a world.
Here we often refer to the run-up to an election as the “silly season.” What’s more often silly, though, are the stories people actually believe, much of the time either because they’re from a (usually single) source they trust, or because they’ve already made their minds up on what happened and only seek out what backs up their views. (Dang that confirmation bias!)
Between false equivalencies (the old apples and orangutans) and rampant jumping to conclusions (because three of the four people I know born on Jan. 13 have had serious leg/foot/hip injuries, being born on that day must be hazardous to the health of the lower body), it’s amazing any truth gets through sometimes. It’s even more amazing when the opposition admits it’s the truth.
When that happens, I’ll let you know … still waiting on that …
On the other hand, the idea that a 5-year-old cat named Limberbutt McCubbins is running for president is most definitely welcome silliness (Does the president want a belly rub?). The name alone is enough to win me over, but it’s still not as funny to me as the Monty Python “election night special” featuring the Sensible, Silly, Slightly Silly and Very Silly parties.
In real life back in 1979, Jeremy Fox ran for the United Kingdom’s Parliament from Dover and Deal as the Silly Party candidate, and called for, among other things, a reduction in the price of cat food. I think Limberbutt could get behind that. My boy could, too, but would have needed to know his stance on catnip mice, crunchy treats and jingly balls.
In the field of five candidates for the seat, Fox finished fourth with 642 votes, so there were probably at least that many silly people in that area in 1979. He had gotten into the race in the first place to oppose the National Front (far right, whites only) candidate, and came away with nearly double that candidate’s votes.
For perspective, the winning candidate pulled in more than 30,000 votes, and the second-place runner-up more than 22,000; there was no real danger of Fox being elected.
Now the U.K. has the Official Monster Raving Loony Party (its motto: “Vote for insanity”), established in 1983 by Screaming Lord Sutch. While it does run multiple candidates for office, it’s never won a parliamentary seat … but some of its policy positions are downright sensible and have actually been made into law. Maybe it’s the sensible part that’s loony.
And then there’s the U.S. We’ve had more than a few mock candidates, such as Pat Paulsen, Stephen Colbert and Gallagher. In each case (except maybe perennial candidate Paulsen), we were pretty sure it was a joke. But you have to admit, Colbert would be pretty entertaining as a president, at least when the correspondents’ dinner rolled around. A lot of other people thought so, too, with the Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow super-PAC raising over $1.2 million.
There are others who just plain make a mockery of the system. Before the crazy-uncle candidate that is Donald Trump, there was Ross Perot (he of the crazy aunt in the basement … or attic … it kept changing), often pointed to as having cleared the way for Bill Clinton to become president. Perot’s 1992 running mate, Admiral James Stockdale, was seen as a dolt in his vice presidential debate performance, a sad comment on the decline of a highly decorated veteran and fellow at the Hoover Institution.
Vice President Joe Biden is considered by some as an expert in foreign policy, but unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your view) is a gaffe machine. Witness this winner: “When the stock market crashed, Franklin D. Roosevelt got on the television and didn’t just talk about the, you know, the princes of greed. He said, ‘Look, here’s what happened.’”
That’d be pretty hard to accomplish, considering that the crash was in 1929, Roosevelt took office in 1933, and TVs weren’t popular in the U.S. until late in the 1940s.
Biden once said of Rudy Giuliani, “there’s only three things he mentions in a sentence. A noun and a verb and 9/11.” Giuliani apparently has a pretty short memory, though, as he told Good Morning America in 2010: “We had no domestic attacks under Bush—we’ve had one under Obama.”
Remind me … who was mayor of New York City on 9/11?
Also in 2010, U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia worried during a committee hearing that moving 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam could be catastrophic for the small island territory: “Yeah, my fear is that the whole island will become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize.”
Johnson later said he was kidding and trying to make a point, but critics are doubtful.
If he was kidding, this man should play high-stakes poker. The only betraying emotion I saw in the video was from the admiral being questioned; sure seemed like he was this close to laughing.
Rand Paul, ever the image of restraint, told a crowd in South Carolina, after a 2013 Food and Drug Administration decision to phase out trans-fats,” They’re coming after your doughnuts!” Never mind, as Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine pointed out, that companies like Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Donuts had already gotten rid of trans-fats in their products.
The idea of a doughnut ban obviously got under Paul’s skin, as he stated, “I say we should line every one of them up. I want to see how skinny or how fat the FDA agents are that are making the rules on this.” I’m thinking somebody’s had a bit too much of that Dunkin’ Donuts coffee … and probably too many of those Double Chocolate Cake Donuts … I hear they’re addictive.
Howard Dean, meanwhile, will likely never live down that primal “Yeeeaaahhh!” in the 2004 campaign. Nor should he. For one thing, it’s a lesson in the dangers of overconfidence.
No one is immune to saying stupid things, but at least the things that aren’t completely false are good for a laugh. Unfortunately, not enough people are checking if those things are true. That says something about our political culture … and it’s mostly four-letter words.
David Axelrod—the former senior adviser to Obama, now a political consultant and director of the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago—tweeted a great idea back in February:
There’s one problem with that: Far too many of them would be rendered mute.
Not that that’s a bad thing. Well, except for writers like me.