But Seriously, Folks ...

One of the ways we criticize people on the other side is to say they aren't "serious" about some policy matter, or about policy in general. Even though I've used it myself, it's a problematic thing to say, because what it essentially says is, "There is no need to listen to anything this person says." People who thought it was a bad idea to invade Iraq were derided for lacking seriousness about foreign affairs, for instance, a claim usually made by those who turned out to be spectacularly, embarrassingly wrong about the thing they were claiming such seriousness about.

Nevertheless, we are now confronted with an entire army of people running for office who seem rather unserious when it comes to the whole "making laws" thing. They seem to be so intensely ideological that they haven't bothered to think about policy. When you start asking them questions, they very quickly reveal themselves to have a shockingly superficial understanding of things. So after Rand Paul reveals his own ignorance and disturbing views, Sharron Angle just decides that she'll only talk to reporters who will give her softballs. (Though she just emerged. The resulting interview included this gem: When asked about her prior assertion that unemployment benefits just spoiled people, she said, "I said it has spoiled our citizenry; that's a little different. They're not spoiled. What has happened is the system of entitlement has caused us to have a spoilage with our ability to go out and get a job." Um ... OK.)

To a degree, this is an old Republican story -- if you believe government can't do anything right, then what's the point of understanding how government works? And being in the opposition, where you don't really have the power to do much, tends to make you less serious. But what if these people actually took power? I don't just mean got office and became perennial backbenchers (Michelle Bachmann may get on TV a lot, but I doubt she's ever going to be speaker of the House), but actually got the opportunity to govern?

It's a bit frightening to contemplate. But in Reykjavik, Iceland, they just elected a man named Jon Gnarr as mayor, as a terrific article in The New York Times explained. Gnarr is a well-known comedian, who ran as the leader of the cleverly named Best Party. "No one has to be afraid of the Best Party," he said, "because it is the best party. If it wasn't, it would be called the Worst Party or the Bad Party. We would never work with a party like that." Sounds good to me, as did Gnarr's insistence that he could not form a coalition with any party whose members had not seen all five seasons of "The Wire." Matt Yglesias found their totally awesome, "We Are the World"-style campaign video, which includes lines like "The blathering loons should be given a home in the city zoo," "Economise, we only need one santa," and "Free access to
Hljmoskalagardurinn!" I don't know what that last one is, but I'm guessing it's some place to which Icelanders do not currently enjoy free access.

The question is, what's more dangerous: an unserious legislator motivated by ideology, or a comedian mayor? I'd say the former -- it's not like the mayor is going to cancel all trash collection as a gag. Instead, chances are he'll pull some attention-getting but basically harmless stunts, while doing his best to make the city run. The unserious legislator, on the other hand, might try to eliminate Social Security and dismantle all regulation of corporations. And we know what can happen then.

UPDATE: Good Mr. Yglesias informs me that Hljómskálagarðurinn is a "garden/park thingy" -- see here (for some reason, my own searching produced no results - blatant anti-Icelandic bias in Google, I presume). Although I can't say I know much about whatever battles have been fought over it, it certainly seems from here like the kind of thing to which all Icelanders should have free access.

-- Paul Waldman

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