Clowning and geeking in politics

Tucker Bounds heads down Nightmare Alley.

Crooks and Liars treats this video as if the top news was Tucker Bounds’s refusal to say flatly that Phil Gramm won’t be Secretary of the Treasury in a McCain Administration. But to my eye that aspect is secondary to the fact that David Shuster is (literally) laughing out loud as Bounds keeps piling on the b.s. (Bounds is insisting that there’s some sort of equivalency between McCain’s relationship to his economic guru Phil Gramm and Barack Obama’s non-relationship to Franklin Raines.)

This reminds me of how Terry McAuliffe was treated by Chris Matthews when (as Josh Marshall said) McAuliffe was spouting “projectile nonsense,” while the HRC campaign was in its death throes.

There are times in politics when a campaign spokesman is forced to b.s. because telling the truth would count as a “gaffe.” But the good ones maintain a little bit of self-respect in the process, and thereby allow their interviewers and their audiences to do the same. The bad ones, like Bounds and McAuliffe, simply put on their clown noses. You can admire it as a kind of performance art, but it’s deeply degrading to the performers and the audience alike.

That’s what leads interviewers like Matthews and Shuster to laugh: to show us, and remind themselves, that they may be part of the audience at a clown show but they’re not (always) clowns themselves.

Footnote “Life is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel.” It’s not the better part of me that finds Bounds and McAuliffe to be clownish, and fit objects of laughter. In my more humane moments, this stuff makes me faintly sick to my stomach, like watching a carnival geek bite the head off a live chicken, and I feel pity rather than contempt. Fortunately, humanity was never really my strong suit.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: