Watching the Republican Party presidential hopefuls trip their way towards the nomination for the last 10 months reminds me of The Dancing Plague of 1518.
In July 1518, one Frau Troffea began dancing fervently in the streets
of Strasbourg, France. She danced for four to six days (accounts vary).
Within a week, 34 others joined her. By the end of the month, 400.
Medical authorities of the day attributed the outbreak to “hot blood.”
Alarmed, instead of the usual bleeding, doctors prescribed more dancing
to break the feverish non-stop dancing that continued day and night,
24/7. Eventually, the afflicted dancers died from heart attack, stroke,
or exhaustion. It was a cure for the plague of sorts.
More recently, the dancing mania has been considered an example of
Mass Psychogenic Illness (MPI), a manifestation often brought on by
extreme levels of psychological stress or spiritual despair. That
certainly sounds like what the Republican party of 2012 is suffering
from, as its superstar nominees fight for the chance to take on that
sitting duck, Barack Obama, and his socialist Chicago thug
The disease has already claimed the lives of such dancing fools as
Cain, Trump, Bachmann, Perry, and Huntsman Jr. And now the Awesome
Foursome -- you know their names -- are threatening to take the mania
from state to state as they dance their way to Tampa this summer.
The party, MPI experts will say, has come down with a particularly
bad case of the plague. It has made the candidates and their poor
SuperPACs spend millions of hard earned dollars demonstrating how to
commit ritual suicide before the eyes and ears of voters. Not even Terry
Southern or Kurt Vonnegut could have written a darker comedy about what
not to do, as the Fab Four shred each other, preparing for today's
Super Duper Stupor Tuesday, when 10 states pick their favorite hoofer.
A sure sign of the dancing disease emerged during the 19 TV debates
when most of the time the candidates tore into each other on trivial
side issues while ignoring the glaring fissures in our society. As
economist Dennis Ainsworth summarized for me while we were watching the
last debate, "The real unemployment number is 23%. Young people cannot
find employment, and 3.5 million high-skilled, blue-collar jobs go
begging because no one is trained for them. We could be energy
independent from the Middle East if we only drilled our own oil, which
could create three million jobs in America and cut $500 billion of our
trade deficits. And we are watching them dance the night away arguing
about contraception or whether it’s truly Satan that is out to get us."
The MPI mania is making our tiring potential nominees do and say
strange things. While Romney is showing his mastery of doing the chicken
-- one step sideways, two steps backward on his earlier achievements
-- he is showing his solidarity with average Americans by saying his
wife only has two Cadillacs in the garage at home. At Daytona, he is
bragging that some of his best friends own NASCAR teams.
But the most astonishing victim of the disease is Rick Santorum. In
Michigan, a state the pundits were saying was his to lose, he
demonstrated the plague’s impact on cognitive political reasoning. It
was bad enough that he was attacking public education and higher
learning, but then he decided to play the religion card -- at a time
when it's the economy, stupid.
It could be argued that the Devil may have made him do such things,
like saying he wanted to throw up after reading what JFK said about
religious tolerance in the 1960 election. But then he trumped that by
coming out solidly for eliminating separation of church and state.
At the risk of sounding like an elitist intellectual snob who went
to college -- although graduating without honors and being in the bottom
of my class at CCNY -- I suggest candidate Santorum re-read his
Jefferson (“Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom,” et al.).
Whatever he learned in his home study history course, the seriously
conservative founding fathers believed in separation of church and
state. Even if you don’t, Rick.
Only the dancing plague could make a seriously conservative person
like Santorum utter such nonsense in public. It’s what I would expect
from that radical, Ron Paul.
And so it goes: more surprises, zany twists in logic, and
votemanship as we approached Stupor Tuesday. The remaining candidates,
to their credit, are dancing as fast as they can, and the party
probably won’t drop dead until Election Day.