Red and Circuses

The farcical Republican presidential campaigns shouldn't distract from the serious drama coming in next year's election

One of the more amusing sidelines in the ongoing quest for the Republican presidential nomination has been watching the blogs and media run out of circus metaphors to describe it. There’s only so far you can go with three-ring shenanigans and clown-car antics before you have to move on to more fertile metaphorical territory (also, Jon Stewart predictably got the final word on the category by describing Donald Trump as ”a circus peanut wearing a badger”).

But the main story of the Republican primary season veers wildly between farce — at times it feels like they’re all actors filming an improvisational Christopher Guest film, say, Waiting for Mittens — and tragedy, given that a not-insignificant number of people actually believe one of these candidates should be handed the reins of government. Worse, some of the candidates themselves apparently believe the same thing.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, the last woman in the world you’d think would want to make the public argument that gay men should marry straight women, has been one of the most consistent causes of nervous laughter. I have to say that I’m deeply uncomfortable with the use of small children as public political props, so it took me a while to finally watch the viral YouTube video of an 8-year-old boy shyly confronting the congresswoman at a campaign event where he whispered in her ear, ”My Mommy’s gay and she doesn’t need any fixing.”

The fact that the kid was likely coached on the line doesn’t completely take away from the moment when Bachmann’s face goes from smiling and friendly to hard and blank, then she pulls away with a stilted ”buh-bye.” It’s squirm-inducing but funny, rather inappropriate but completely illuminating.

Maybe we should start referring to the whole Republican campaign as an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. It would certainly encompass the implosion of Herman Cain, who faced accusations of sexual harassment and adultery with an ill-advised, last-ditch ”Women for Cain” campaign, followed quickly by a self-pitying, Pokémon-quoting and far-too-late farewell speech.

There’s a part of me that wishes I could be a Republican. Admittedly, that’s in large part because I’m contrarian by nature and tend to chafe against any expectations of what I’m supposed to do, feel or like as a gay man. This explains my lack of appreciation for the music of Madonna and Lady Gaga. More importantly, though, it’s because I honestly believe there need to be LGBT conservatives and Republicans attempting to steer that party toward more friendly waters.

But while I may be contrarian, I’m not that contrarian. The current spectacle of Republican presidential candidates doubling down on constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage and promises to reinstate ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” put them beyond the pale for me and, I would hope, the vast majority of LGBT people.

Still, my honest hope has always been for the best Republican candidate — or the least-crazy one, depending on your perspective — to win the nomination. Hard times make for difficult elections, and there’s certainly no guarantee that President Obama will achieve a second term. I hope he does, and not just for LGBT issues.

But in the midst of a period of economic hardship and intense partisan rancor, the idea that Newt Gingrich, the clown-prince of ’90s-era Republican politics, has a serious shot at winning the nomination gives me the willies. The idea of Mitt Romney winning it doesn’t exactly fill me with the warm and fuzzies, but it would probably be more livable than any upcoming Rick Santorum surge.

The Republicans may be playing at farcical comedy now, but there’s some serious drama waiting in the next act.

Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.

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