"With people like O'Donnell, Angle, Paul, Miller, Buck, Paladino, ... running for the highest offices in the land as evidence, can we safely conclude this is the craziest election in the last fifty years?"On the one hand, we've always had fringe characters running on the outsider platform. Minnesota did elect a professional wrestler as its governor not so long ago. In Louisiana, the former Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan did receive a third of the popular vote. And, of course, let's John Ashcroft's loss to Mel Carnahan for Senate in Missouri despite the fact that the Carnahan campaign had probably the most significant public relations hurdle possible to deal with -- the fact that the candidate was dead at the time of the election.
But those were individual sideshows, not a general trend. What we have this year does seem different. It has been building for a while, of course, but it does seem to have reached critical mass in a peculiar and scary sort of way. There seem to be three related lines that have intersected this election: We don't need competent managers, but ideologically pure conservatives, the "Joe Sixpack" fetish,
Between the 70s and 80s, the elite pro-corporate conservatives struck a deal with the major figures among the religious, cultural conservatives to unite behind a conglomeration of their views. The corporate conservative anti-tax, anti-regulation message was framed as a smaller government message which then transformed into a broad anti-government message. When you have people who don't believe in the power of government who are then running to acquire the power of government, it means that they don't have to be the most capable individuals because they are there to destroy, to dismantle, not to accomplish anything.
Add to this, the "Joe Sixpack" fetish of the media in which "real America" is white, Midwestern, Christian, and conservative. The goal to strip the working class vote from the Democrats is nothing new, it was the heart of Nixon's Southern Strategy and has been in play for decades. Part of this has been standard conservative rhetoric since William F. Buckley in the sixties argued that names picked at random from the phone book would be better for government than the best and the brightest Ivy League figures (especially the women and minorities) the Democrats placed in visible posts. "Elite" became a four-letter word and education the mark of a lack of knowledge and understanding. When combined with voter guides distributed in churches, you had a group that had not be used to political power suddenly greatly emboldened and Republicans winning elections.
Then with the rise of Sarah Palin, this group that had been the engine of the Republican Revolution decided that it would also claim the steering wheel. They no longer wanted to just vote for the conservative establishment, they wanted to rule the roost themselves. This, of course, scares the solid excrement from many of those who have long occupied positions of power in the Republican hierarchy. The tide they have been fomenting in order to surf to power was now washing over them. They had figured they were playing these people, getting them to do their bidding; but now they've come back expecting to be the ones with the power themselves. The check of the structure has been swamped and as a result you get a crop of candidates who are not the polished, vetted types of figures we are used to. The mediation of the organization has broken down and the result is something that is unusual.