Remember George Allen? Not that George Allen – the football coach. The other George Allen, who was the son of the football coach and was Governor of Virginia from 1994 to 1998 and then Senator from Virginia from 2000 to 2007.
In 2006 he ran for re-election to the Senate and on August 11, 2006, at a campaign stop he referred to a dark-skinned onlooker as ‘macaca,’ which is a racist slur meaning ‘monkey,’ and is often used against non-whites from other countries although in this instance, the guy happened to be born and raised in the United States.
I may be mistaken, but I believe that Allen’s intemperate outburst, which ended the political career of a guy being touted as a possible Presidential contender, was also the first time that the internet carried a home-made video of this kind of embarrassing behavior which then got replayed on network TV.
All of a sudden, what someone said to a small audience in a political campaign could become the stuff of international concern, as Barack Obama discovered when he made his ‘clinging to their religion and guns’ comment in 2008, a lesson Mitt Romney hadn’t learned when he said that 47% of Americans were ‘dependent’ on government handouts in a private speech to donors that was caught on video in 2012.
Now that the internet has turned what we used to refer to as ‘news’ into a daily online gossip and scandal sheet, you would think that men and women running for public office would be even more careful about what they say and how what they say is reported and perceived.
To the contrary, what appears to be happening at least on the GOP side of things, is the degree to which public figures-cum-candidates are trying to outdo each other in terms of how crazy, stupid, hateful and bizarre they can sound.
What else can you say about someone like Lauren Boebert who has told the world that the text of the United States Constitution can’t be changed? Which doesn’t even begin to compare to the almost-daily missives from Marjorie Taylor Greene about space lasers or committing mass shootings to increase support for gun-control in GOP ranks.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that the various GOP Presidential wannabees or other public personalities will start moderating their views or delivery styles as we get closer to 2024. Because even if he gets indicted, the last thing Donald Trump will do is shut the fu*k up. And as long as Trump is bellowing into the political commentary stream every day, you can bet the competition will be trying to outdo him both in terms of volume and amount of noise.
At some point during the 2016 campaign, it was probably during 2015, Huffington Post announced they were moving stories about Trump from the entertainment section to the section that covered political news. And this editorial decision is what gave Trump a degree of political legitimacy which previously he had not enjoyed.
Worse, this decision by Huffington didn’t so much validate the Trumpist rhetorical style as an acceptable way for transmitting political ideas - it shifted the entire rhetorical environment in politics, or at least GOP politics, to a reliance on style over substance, particularly as the style became as nasty, raucous and stupid as it became.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not only pleased to see the GOP, rhetorically speaking, fall off the verbal cliff. To the contrary, I hope that as we get into the 2024 electoral season, the GOP continues to abandon any degree of decency and honesty in their effort to wrest the Oval Office away from Joe.
What this decline of the GOP into the bottom of the rhetorical garbage can really reflects, however, is a problem that faces any political challenge to the prevailing status quo, namely, the fact that life appears to be back to normal for most people at this moment in time. Yesterday I pumped gasoline into my car for $2.99 a gallon and it’s pretty tough to make the argument that we’re in bad shape when unemployment continues to register at less than 4 percent.
The much bigger problem facing the GOP is that when their 2024 primaries end, no matter how much the winner out-trumps Trump in terms of promoting a narrative based on nothing other than lies, insults and noise, somehow or other a change in speaking style will have to take place.
I can just see what will happen when Ron DeSantis says that it’s okay to be woke, as long as you do it in the privacy of your home.