There is something so dark and perverse about the Republican debates that I cannot stop watching them. In many ways I imagine it to be like a deathwatch that takes place hours before an execution, but this is so much more fun. The Wednesday night debate might have been called Dead White Men Walking. My wife has now taken to hiding upstairs when I watch these debates. She puts on her Bose headset to drown out the blather. But I turn the volume way up to torment her and my Republican neighbors three blocks away, who are so ashamed by what has happened to their Grand Old Party that they're voting for the Democrats this November. But it's not the debate that bothers my wife so much, as it is my own screaming, which I hardly notice anymore.
The inane nattering between McCain and Romney Wednesday night reached an new level of irrelevance as they argued who said what about timetables for leaving Iraq, highlighting the word "timetable" at least 25 times in a span of less than five minutes. Even the quirky Ron Paul became so frustrated that he tried to point out that there were real issues about the debacle in Iraq that might be debated. Their squabbles make Huckabee look, well, presidential.
All of this grotesque absurdity was underscored by the worshipping tone of reverence that took place in the house of Reagan as each candidate genuflected to the Gipper. It was so over the top that it was the first time, in my life, I felt the least bit of empathy for Nancy. Nancy even trotted out her old red outfit. The stench of the mothballs must have been so pungent that the organizers had to seat her next to Schwarzenegger whose olfactory senses were long ago destroyed from snorting steroids.
With all of the deification of Reagan at Wednesday night's debate, one might be tempted to overlook the fact that Ronnie had the vision and IQ of cheese. He was a man so empty and vacuous that, like a blank screen, you could project any idea or attribute onto him and it would stick. He was a simple mirror who reflected back only what people had cast onto to him and that's what made him so likeable to most everyone.
Throughout the debate McCain only looked backward, reliving another failed war that left him brutally scarred. He now relishes the idea of an endless war in the Middle East as he talks with a childish glee about Iraq. It's another failed war in which he is desperately trying to purge himself of those old nightmares that must haunt him daily. McCain, whose heroic effort at surviving in Vietnam has been so diminished by his pandering, that he has become an utterly tragic figure. The low turning point for this transformation occurred some years ago when he was besmirched and humiliated by Bush in the 2000 primary in South Carolina. Months later, McCain, broken, gave Bush one long sycophantic embrace, the picture of which still makes me cringe. As a result, he has lost all ability to be embarrassed by what he says or does.
John McCain is a seething cauldron of rage who has taken to channeling W's smirk when his opponents dare to challenge the veracity of what he says. It's clear he'd rather orchestrate a little bloodletting among his opponents than sit there fuming. His puffed up imagine of tough guy takes a serious hit when you realize he's 71. To bolster that image he's added Rambo and the Terminator, both aging relics themselves, to his posse. His poor bride Cindy is made to look younger, as each week of the campaign season passes, to make us believe that this old gasbag is still virile. McCain's only coherent response to how he would deal with the recession gripping this country was that he knew Jack Kemp and Phil Graham, two old political hacks who are so irrelevant, that by association, McCain was underscoring his own obsolescence.
The terminally good-looking Romney was perfectly coiffed Wednesday night. His handlers even gave him a Reaganesque hairdo, slicked back with Brylcream, in honor of this event. However, unlike the Gipper, they had to add a little tinge of gray at the sides to make him look wise in order to mask the goofy things he said.
But what really got my attention Wednesday night was the big plane looming in the background. What did the old Boeing 707 Air Force One, that shuffled Ronnie and Mommy around for eight gruesome years, have to do with these candidates? It took me a while to figure out that metaphor, but when I did, the whole spectacle made immediate sense to me. It turns out that this plane, number 27000, was the same, then brand new, plane that flew Dick Nixon into oblivion in 1974, and dumped the greatly diminished Reagan back in California in 1989. I can still see the stoop shouldered Dick and poor Pat climbing the airplane steps, like they were on a gangplank, and Dick turning at the top to flash that famous, " I am not a crook grin." Nixon then waved to the small white house crowd forced to witness this ghastly event, as the dark furies he unleashed were waiting to pilot him home.
In fact, Rudy's premature withdrawal from the race, before this debate, was one more catastrophic mistake that otherwise, had he stayed, might have given life to his message. What better symbol for all that Rudy stood for during this campaign than a big f------- plane in his background.
Nonetheless, his absence did not diminish the significance of what we were witnessing. With the four remaining Republican candidates sitting in the ominous shadow of that plane, I knew with divine clarity that we were seeing the last blood-curdling gasp of the Reagan revolution. Old white men lined up on the tarmac to take one last ride into oblivion, and with them the conservative ideology that has plunged this country into financial and moral bankruptcy. Unless, of course, the hapless Democrats nominate Hillary Clinton!
Bud McClure is a professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is the author, most recently, of Putting a New Spin on Groups: The Science of Chaos, 2e, and is at work on a current book manuscript, "The Pink Nebula in Orion." He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org