Every election year brings out the fools. 2012 was no exception. With the nation heading over a fiscal cliff because a balance of cuts and taxes can’t be agreed upon by the President and Congress, there are plenty of fools to be found. To select one individual from that mess is impossible. There are so many candidates. It won’t get any better after the nation dives off the cliff. In the next few weeks, an agreement must be reached on raising the debt ceiling or else the government will default.
All these problems were avoidable. The solutions are simple: compromise. However, compromise is elusive. It isn’t only the nation’s finances at stake either. The political campaign and governance of the nation lacked that from its elected officials and candidates throughout the year.
When extreme positions are taken on issues as clear-cut as rape, that is a clear sign that things are amiss. Women’s reproductive rights have long been an issue in political campaigns. That wasn’t where the attention went this year though. When Missouri Rep. Todd Akin stated that a woman can’t become pregnant if she is “legitimately” raped, the campaign reached its apex of stupidity. Contraception had been an issue prior to that with the political debate centering on Rush Limbaugh calling a college student a “slut” because she sought the inexpensive availability of contraceptives. It seemed that was as bad as it could get. It wasn’t.
Akin and Limbaugh were not alone. Iowa Rep. Steve King said that he never heard of a woman getting pregnant through rape or incest. Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh followed that by stating it was never medically necessary for a woman to have an abortion in order to save her life. It wasn’t just a few loose cannons firing off their comments about rape. It was widespread foolery.
If there is a candidate who bridged the lunacy between an unwillingness to compromise and embracing the ridiculousness of making rape a campaign issue, that would be Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock. Mourdock made the best case for becoming Fool of the Year.
Before Mourdock sank his political campaign by suggesting that rape is part of God’s plan, he came up with zinger of an idea on how Washington should work.
“Bipartisanship oughta consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view,” Mourdock said back in May.
If that doesn’t blow the idea of compromise out of the water, then nothing does. For the majority of Republicans in Congress, who have endorsed Grover Norquist’s no tax pledge that is the mantra they keep repeating to themselves. For them, compromise and bipartisanship are dirty words never to be embraced.
There was another time when bipartisanship was a dirty word too. The nation went off the cliff then too, but it was a cliff that turned into the Civil War. Mourdock symbolizes that “my way is the only way” attitude.
Even after seeing his lead evaporate and his lost race for the Senate, Mourdock still didn’t get it. In an effort to retire his campaign debt, Mourdock announced to his supporters who was to blame for his failed candidacy. Mourdock’s fundraising letter pointed his finger at “the slew of false accusations Democrats and the liberal media churned up to distract voters.”
Locating a runner-up to Mourdock is no easy task from the many choices available. It takes multiple instances of foolishness to win that nod. For that, we need only to look towards Arizona.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio plunged head first into the birther controversy with an investigation worthy of any good Keystone Cop. Arpaio tried the pretense of a fair investigation, but many people believe it was more of a reaction to the Justice Department’s investigation of his office for civil rights violations. Arpaio is being sued by the Justice Department for racial profiling.
Arpaio has been a longtime and ardent foe of illegal immigration. He has repeatedly shown a willingness to use law enforcement resources in ways that may cross the line beyond what is legally allowed. Over the years, he has faced investigations and criticism for the misuse of funds, abuse of power and an anti-immigration policy that allows deputies to stop cars with Latino passengers to check their immigration status. Amidst all this, Arpaio sees no problems with his actions. He is baffled that some would consider his policies racially biased.
“I’ve never had any problems with a Latino. They love me,” Arpaio said.
Sure they do.
As bad as all this is, it is the birther issue that Arpaio sunk his teeth into and showed his disregard for justice and common sense. Arpaio sent a “Threats Unit” investigator and a member of his volunteer posse to Hawaii to validate that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is real. He also used the resources of one of the nation’s most prominent birthers to investigate the birth certificate, including that person into interviews and at his news conference.
Anyone who has looked into the birther controversy and doesn’t have a conspiracy axe to grind will quickly learn that those records are private in Hawaii. Two top Hawaiian officials, who oversee the office where the birth certificates are stored, have publicly stated that they have seen the original birth certificate and it is valid and present. One of those officials was a Republican, appointed by a Republican governor. Fortunately, the concept of bipartisanship does still exist in some places.
Arpaio ended his investigation with a news conference in which he declared that the birth certificate was “fraudulent.” Arpaio’s evidence primarily rested on the layers discovered in an analysis of the birth certificate. This is a standard birther position over the last year. It has a simple explanation. Use most commercial over-the-counter software to scan an item as the Obama campaign did and layers can be discovered using the process that Arpaio and other birthers have embraced.
Basic, simple research explains it all. That Arpaio and his deputies can’t figure this out isn’t just foolish. It is frightening. If they can’t figure something out as simple as this, how do they investigate real crimes and arrest the right people? There are only two explanations: Arpaio and his department are either grossly incompetent or manipulating investigations for political purposes. Take your pick.
Donald Trump. Trump would probably have garned Fool of the Year if he actually became an official candidate. Trump has played with the media for a dozen years or more on running for president. He has masterfully played the media to feed his giant ego. Yet everytime he inches close to running he backs out. Even when he is not threatening to run for office, Trump finds the spotlight. Now the world’s most well known birther, Trump has used the issue to get his face in the news. His foolishness reached its peak when he announced a “gamechanger” in October for the presidential race. Many thought Trump had a new document to reveal. Instead, Trump offered $5 million if Obama would release his college records and passport information. It was part of a ploy to “expose” Obama’s birthplace. All it exposed was Trump’s unintentional comedic behavior.
Todd Akin. No list is complete without Akin. The Missouri Congressman thrust rape as a campaign issue with his “legitimate rape” comment. It was easy to dismiss Akin as a lone ignorant extremist until others like Mourdock and Rep. Steve King jumped into the debate. It then became clear that Akin was part of a larger problem in American politics. Tried as he may to explain his position, Akin could never change the broader public perspective that his beliefs bordered on the fringe. Besides not being elected to the Senate, Akin gave up his House seat.
Scott DesJarlais. For pure hypocrisy, Tennessee Rep. DesJarlais bested everyone. Advocating a pro-family agenda, it was discovered that DesJarlais had affairs with patients from his dental practice. He also advocated for an abortion for his former wife. DesJarlais was fortunate that all these stories came out after the election. He has until 2014 for his constituents to decide if the should be relected. DesJarlais has vowed not to leave office unless his constituents vote him out. Considering the American electorate’s penchant for forgiveness, it would not be a surprise to see him reelected in two years.
Allen West. West lost his race for reelection, but he is probably not done with politics yet. While in Congress, West regularly stirred controversy with comments like those that he made earlier in the year. West claimed that there were about 80 communists in Congress. His use of that number referred to the Progressive Caucus in the House. West stated that there was a “fine line” between progressives and communists. This neo-McCarthyism is based on the same type of fabrications and exaggerations that Joe McCarthy used back in the 1950s. Sadly, it still seems to work on some people in 2012.
Rick Santorum. Santorum’s surprisingly effective presidential campaign included a number of forays into distortion and misinformation. He somehow drew a comparison between Obama’s policies and the guillotine. He stated that history is no longer taught at the University of California. Perhaps the most prominent distortion was his assertion that the Dutch were euthanizing people against their will. That riled up the Dutch who have taken great measures to assure that euthanasia is only used in cases where a patient seeks to end his or her suffering.
Looking back at 2012, with the circus of a very strange election year, going off the fiscal cliff in 2013 or letting the nation slip into default on its debt doesn’t seem so unexpected after all.