Politics in a modern democracy is mostly theater. The various actors hired by the wealthy, put on shows for the people. Today, we have entire television outlets dedicated to staging these performances. Sometimes the performances are intended to sway public opinion on an issue. Sometimes they are intended to distract the public from something important. The Russian collusion hoax was intended to be a distraction, so the public would not think about the FBI corruption.
The difference between Hollywood and political theater is a different measure of the return on investment. Hollywood can make a crappy movie that goes straight to video, but still make money, as long as the cost was low. Killer Klowns from Outer Space can be a success, even though it is a ridiculously bad movie, because it was cheap and has become a cult favorite. Hank Johnson worrying about Guam flipping over really does not work the same way.
Political theater is all about keeping one faction of the public engaged in the political process, ideally at the expense of another faction. The Left gives some character on the Right a rough time, so the public is either exhilarated for their side, the Democrats in this case, or angry at their side, the Republicans. That’s a success for both teams of actors, as their handlers get the engagement they seek from the public. The public is focused on the theater, rather than the laws being passed.
As much as pundits mock the political theater, the people staging these events are pretty good at their job. Mass media has provided them with tools to engage even the most disinterested of the public. Fifty years ago, most people paid little attention to politics or political theater. A century ago, about 15% of adults bothered to vote in presidential elections. Today, half of all adults vote in presidential elections and about 65% of eligible voters turned out in the last presidential election.
That’s what makes the Mueller hearings a puzzler. Five minutes watching Mueller made clear that he is an old man who has lost a step. He was never a brilliant guy to begin with, but he could play his role as the horse-face Brahman. Today, he has the horse face, but not much else. His fumbling around with friendly questions from the Democrats was hard to watch. Anyone who has had to deal with a family member making the long slow walk into the sunset knows the feeling.
These events are not just a last minute staging. The Democrats have been working for months to put this show together. Staffers would have spent weeks preparing questions, preparing Mueller for those questions and making sure he knew the answers he was expected to give. The point of these shows is to provide soundbites for state-run media to use in the following propaganda broadcast. In fact, the cable channels get a heads up on those soundbites in advance.
Yet none of that happened. Instead, poor old horse face was left to look like a guy who had wondered off from the home. Instead of clips of him repeating the scripted catch phrases, it was clips of him fumbling about looking confused. It would take a heart of stone to not feel some anger at the people who put that old man through that ridiculous hearing in front of Congress. Lefty media was so caught off-guard, they were forced to concede the obvious and call it a debacle.
Now, maybe that was the point. The Russian collusion hoax has become a problem for the political class, because the people still peddling it make Mike Cernovich seem like a sober minded skeptic. Maybe this show was not really for public consumption, so much as a way to embarrass the people peddling the Russian conspiracy theory and the impeachment nonsense. If so, they forgot to let the presidential candidates know, as they were out demanding impeachment the same day.
Just as Hollywood makes expensive flops and Broadway has shows that close after a month, the political class has their flops too. McDonald’s, the most successful fast food operation on earth, once tried selling a burger you had to assemble yourself. The Arch Deluxe is considered one of the great product flops in history. Hollywood, of course, has made a lot of box-office bombs that lost tens of millions for the backers. Maybe that’s what we saw with this hearing. It was the Gigli of politics.
That said, political disasters tend to have downstream consequences that you don’t see in the theater or in Hollywood. In the entertainment realm, they just accept the occasional disaster as a cost of doing business. In politics, these disasters tend to shift the political dynamic by discrediting one side. In this case, the Democrats may have disqualified themselves as reliable critics of Trump, just as Bill Kristol and the neocons did to themselves back in the 2016 election.
With an election coming up, simply being against Trump more than the other guy is not going to be a winning strategy. If you look at the Democrat race thus far, it is has been a contest to see who can be the most creative at hating white people and who can be the most enthusiastic in hating orange man. After the Mueller hearing, the field may be left with just hating white people. Poor old creepy Uncle Joe could be in for a very rough time of it at the next debate with the brown horde.
Theater, especially political theater, relies heavily on symbolism. The sad image of Bob Mueller, a caricature of WASP America, fumbling about for answers, was a powerful image for the ascendant. They did not see a failed performance. For them, they saw the door opening for their opportunity to take the stage. The only thing missing from that show was a chorus lead by Ocasio-Cortez, singing Tomorrow Belongs To Me. In that regard, the show was not a total bust.
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