Mystery Men (and Women)

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but there’s a little film called Mystery Men (1999; see trailer), a mostly fluffy comedy that got a thumb’s down from Roger Ebert, although I liked it. It has just enough subtle satire to give a little edge to the fluff.

The main characters are a group of ordinary men (and one woman, The Bowler, played by Janeane Garofalo) who desperately want to be superheroes, but they have no superpowers. So they wear costumes and sort of fake having superpowers. Other cast members include William Macy (The Shoveler) and Paul Reubens (as, I think, The Spleen).

The main character, played by Ben Stiller, is Mr. Furious. Mr. Furious gets really, really angry. However, his anger has no productive use. He doesn’t turn into The Hulk; he’s just angry. He believes that his anger gives him power, but by the end of the film he has learned the lesson that he’s more powerful, in a way, without it.

So yesterday a whackjob named Carl Paladino beat the always hapless Rick Lazio for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in New York. The Democratic nominee, Andrew Cuomo, is not seriously threatened. But Paladino reminds me of Mr. Furious.

“We are mad as hell,” Mr. Paladino said in a halting but exuberant victory speech in Buffalo shortly after 11 p.m. “New Yorkers are fed up. Tonight the ruling class knows. They have seen it now. There is a people’s revolution. The people have had enough.”

Referring to criticism from what he said were liberal elites, he added: “They say I am too blunt. Well, I am, and I don’t apologize for it. They say I am an angry man, and that’s true. We are all angry.” …

…In Orchard Park, a Buffalo suburb, Darryl Radt, who described himself as a regular primary voter, said he had come to the American Legion post to vote for Mr. Paladino “because he’s mad as hell and so am I.”

And this anger will be useful, how, exactly?

And in Maryland Delaware, we have tea party darling and Mystery Woman Christine O’Donnell coming out of nowhere to upset the establishment Republican Mike Castle. The GOP establishment is furious, because they believed Castle to be well positioned to take Joe Biden’s former seat.

E.J. Dionne quotes Delaware Republican Party chairman Tom Ross, who complains that Castle had the endorsement of the state’s grass roots Republicans, while O’Donnell was bankrolled and supported by the Tea Party Express, which is headquartered in California.

Ross notes that the state Republican convention endorsed Castle. These are not some shadowy party bosses, but, as he put it, “the grass-roots delegates who knock on the doors and pass out the literature and pound the pavements.”

Ross says he thinks it’s pretty nervy for “some group in Sacramento that doesn’t know our state to come here, destroy our civility, and tell the people of Delaware they know more about our state than we know.”

What’s interesting here is the notion that for all its grass-rootsy talk, the Tea Party is a nationally led and nationally directed movement that is willing to run roughshod over local Republican parties if it finds them to be less than ideologically pure.

What helped O’Donnell is that Delaware has a closed primary, so that independents and conservative Democrats who would have likely voted for Castle in November couldn’t vote for him in the primary.

Anyway, the rightie bloggers see O’Donnell as the grassroots candidate sending a message to the Beltway elite, not noticing that O’Donnell’s “grassroots” backing was from a national organization led by long-time political pros.

Recommended Read: “The Paranoid Style in American Punditry.

14 thoughts on “Mystery Men (and Women)

  1. I think, and I may be waaaaay off base here, that the true anger is not just at Obama, that N****R who got voted into office, but at the people who had the audacity and temerity to vote that N****R into office. Also, part of that is, ‘how dare a Democrat win?’
    This whole Teabag movement is against the people who voted for Obama over McCain and Palin. Putting up rediculous candidates like Paul, Angle, O’Donnell, etc., is more of an “Up yours!” to their fellow voters than a belief in what those candidates stand for.
    Why anyone would vote for someone like O’Donnell is a mystery to anyone with a fully functioning brain. Castle was the last of a dying breed, the NE Republican who cared more about the nation than the party. But a vote for O’Donnell makes perfect sense if all you want to do is give a middle-finger F-U to the rest of your state and country.
    As for Lazio, when, crazy as you are, you’re seen as the SANE Republican candidate for Governor, and you lose big-time to a total nutjob like Paladino, that speaks volumes for how absolutely insane the conservative primary voters are now in my home state of NY. And if they’re crazy here and can get elected, they’re MORE crazy where you live.
    Welcome to the “End Times!” When the crazy and the stupid join in a battle to defeat things that they either won’t, or can’t, understand.
    If anyone asks my why I don’t quit smoking or drinking, I point them at the politcal situation in this country over the last 30 years. There’s a tsunami of stupid building that I don’t think can be stopped. And I’d rather not be here when it breaks over our heads. My only concern, since I’m unemployed, is that I can’t afford enough butts and bourbon to do myself in before then. Well, all I can do is my best…

  2. I happened to catch O’Donnell’s acceptance speech on TV last night and, for someone who claimed to have very little money, she’s got ads EVERYWHERE on the Internet today, including in the RSS feed for your blog. (I saw another liberal blog complaining about how the O’Donnell ads were showing up in Google Ads, so this might be a Google Reader thing?) Apparently the Republican Senatorial Committee is not giving her money and some of the nuttier wingnuts are working up a lather about that—it’ll be kind of interesting to see if the tea partiers break off from the Republicans one of these days or if the whole Republican party just eats itself.

    Also fun: watching Paladino be completely insane during the next couple of months. I am kind of excited about Schneiderman winning the attorney general nom (he was my state senator when I lived in Manhattan and ran a pretty progressive campaign). There were a couple of other small victories in New York yesterday, too, mostly getting rid of conservative democrat state politicians.

  3. >>
    And in Maryland, we have tea party darling and Mystery Woman Christine O’Donnell coming out of nowhere to upset the establishment Republican Mike Castle.
    That should be Delaware.

  4. The Great Depression caused political upheaval almost world-wide. Enter nationalistic demagogues put in place by desperate citizens.

    What’s frightening is that there continue to be people who believe well, yes it happened in Germany and Italy…but it can’t happen here because we have a free press. The reality is that our so-called press/media have deteriorated into gossip, sensationalism and manufactured controversy – which is, of course, a perfect venue for today’s politics and the politicians who use them.

  5. Well… I think that Mr. Furious’ real lesson was that once he learned to stop trying to be something he wasn’t, his anger really did provide power.

    But even that was when he was actually *angry* not just when he was ginning up anger to scare people to cover for the multitude of little frustrations in his life.


    That’s suddenly a *fascinating* metaphor.

    (And I just realized I’d debating the finer literary points of Mystery Men. Kill me now.)

  6. Anger is incredibly motivating. Don’t underestimate it. Should O’Donnell or any Tea Partier get into power, look for them to channel their anger in various and sundry regressive ways. Your notions of what’s useful or not don’t apply – rather put yourself in their shoes to understand where they want to go with their anger. They keep hollering about limited government – among other things – and so that’s a general direction on which their fury will be focused.

  7. Felicity – Valid observation about the rise of fascism in the global deprssion – pre-WWII. The frustration of the masses in Europe was channelled by charismatic dictators. If one arises from the ghetto of GOP politics, this country could be in deep shit fast. In the 30s, this country blamed the GOP and conservatives for the crash – which brought FDR to power.

    I have been trying to figure out which way the wind is blowing – the political weather vane is swinging violently every whichway. My belief has always been that the CENTER decides national elections – or any close state election. (Utah will elect the teabagger – he’s the GOP candidate. That’s that. The same for Alaska – outside any major metro area, democrats are an endangered species in AK.) But my read is that the middle has completely given up on voting FOR – they are voting AGAINST. They voted AGAINST the GOP in 2006 & 2008. The middle was not voting FOR democrats – they were voting AGAINST the politicians in power. This election the middle is voting AGAINST democrats. It’s not personal or political – it’s purely reactionary. Like a drunk in a bar brawl – the independent voter is swining at anything and everything incumbent every election.

    If my theory is true, then democrats may do as well in 2012 as they do badly in 2010. The big drawback to the temper-tantrum style of voting is it leaves politicians totally confused about what they have to do to stay in office. We won’t see any coherent legislation from the new Congress in 2011 & 2012. Nobody has any idea how to placate the mob. Including me.

  8. I must admit I’ve been struggling to grasp that I live in a world where Rick Lazio is more mainstream that the actual Republican candidate.

    As for O’Donnell there are some silver linings: I’m getting some good chuckles watching the cat-fight started when Karl Rove told the truth about there being serious questions about her. Plus, I’m more convinced that the citizens of Delaware will reject her than I am about the lunatics who won primaries in the other states.

    While I am heartened by news in the last 24 hours that suggests the Democrats have realized that there is a good issue in the GOP stance on tax cuts for the wealthy, I am still very frightened. Every since so many people voted for that dumb-as-a-stump dry drunk in 2000, I have no faith that the electorate will reject even the most obviously unqualified. (Plus, Kentucky likes to elect lunatics, it’s almost as bad as South Carolina.)

    We’ll see. (crosses fingers)

  9. The Great Depression caused political upheaval almost world-wide. Enter nationalistic demagogues put in place by desperate citizens

    Felicity, that’s what I was thinking yesterday when I saw the crazies get elected. The Nazis didn’t have too much power to speak of in the Reichstag in the ’20s, until the stock market crash, and then they got elected. I would have thought Sarah the P had no chance of winning in 2012, but I’m not so confident of that these days. And I have no doubt that she would do anything once elected, and would have no scruples against doing it.

  10. I was not familiar with Delaware politics before the O’Donnell dust-up, but a Delaware poster on another blog warned us that, “before we deify Castle”, remember that he was DuPont’s and the banks’ lapdog. I can’t vouch for that, but it’s not improbable.

  11. Making myself listen to PRI on the way to work, it occurred to me that some of the Tea Party is social conservative and some is libertarian. Along with a scattering of miscellaneous nuts, this mixture doesn’t seem likely to hold together very well in the long run. It will be interesting to see whether the less taxes folk or the more moral than thou group become the leading force, and what happens as a result.

    • this mixture doesn’t seem likely to hold together very well in the long run.

      That’s been true of “movement conservatism” for a long time, though, or at least since the glory days of Reagan. The “less taxes, less government” people and the “use government to enforce our mores” people have been marching in lock step for a long time, and they rarely notice that their goals are incompatible. In fact, you find people who call for less government and more government at the same time. I suppose if one never thinks about anything real hard, it doesn’t matter that one is not making sense.

  12. @maha :

    The truly remarkable thing is that most Democrats have not figured out how to turn the mutually incompatible segments of the conservative base against each other. Splitting them into two groups would turn them into two permanently minority parties, and then maybe we could get some progress rolling around here.

    Then again, there is something that many libertarians and social conservatives have in common. They both love power and authority, and don’t seem to have many qualms about supporting it unconditionally.

    Libertarians start talking about shrinking the government, drowning it in a bathtub, and so forth all the time. When do you hear about them controlling the wealthy or powerful individuals or corporations? It’s quite rare. Many of them don’t seem to observe the concept of a power vacuum. If you eliminate one faction in a society, the power once wielded by that faction is divided amongst all of the other most powerful factions.

    As for social conservatives, well, they love authority because they were taught to. That’s a huge part of being raised in a religious family, especially among the fundamentalists.

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