In December of 1995, NASA scientists aimed the Hubble Telescope at a tiny dark spot within Ursa Major, a pinprick amounting to one twenty-four-millionth of the entire sky, a grain of sand in the totality of space. The scientists focused the machine as deeply as it could go, and took pictures. The resulting images astonished the world: In that wee slice of infinity were almost 3,000 galaxies, each littered with millions of planets. Three thousand galaxies multiplied by 24 million inches of sky, and that’s only as far as we can see.
Out of all the planets out there, and the infinite number of possibilities they represent, I’d wager my shoes, pants and left lung that none of them have a guy sitting outside a large birdhouse in a rocking chair under a blue tarp with an assault rifle across his lap. That’s our pleasure alone. His name is LaVoy Finicum, a neighbor of Cliven Bundy with 11 children of his own, and he joined the silly Bundy cohort in Oregon to stand against tyranny by occupying a deserted bird sanctuary while freezing his ass off in the dead of winter with no supplies to speak of. Under a tarp.
There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Dispense with the elephant. I hereby nominate Mr. Finicum as the new avatar of the modern conservative movement: An angry white guy armed to the teeth with a bag over his head.
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It’s a perfect image, if you think about it given the action on Capitol Hill this week. Newly-minted House Speaker Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin and erstwhile GOP candidate for vice president, floated into his new position on a magic carpet weaved with promises of change, new ideas, real progress. His first act as speaker? Presiding over the 62nd vote to repeal Obamacare. It got through the Senate this time, and will actually hit the president’s desk, where it will be swatted out of the building faster than a Serena Williams forehand. Oh, and they attached a rider to defund Planned Parenthood, too.
This is how these people think. “Hey guys, let’s cobble together a bill to strip millions of people of health coverage while simultaneously obliterating affordable reproductive care for women even as we have absolutely no workable substitute other than IT’S ALL BAD WHAARGARBL. Sure, the ACA is the president’s signature piece of legislation, but he totally won’t veto it even with the Planned Parenthood rider attached, because Jesus will show him the light of truth. It can’t possibly fail for the 62nd time!”
In one fell swoop, Speaker Ryan decapitated his credibility by pulling this stunt. A fair number of those in his caucus may not believe in dinosaurs because they aren’t mentioned in the Bible, but Ryan is no political naif. He knew this thing was doomed before he dropped the gavel on it, but he pushed it anyway, because he is as frightened of the right-wing monster his party created as his predecessor was. Soon enough now, Boehner’s orange mien will begin to creep out from under Ryan’s new wanna-be-Paul-Bunyan beard, overtake his face, and eventually he will also be gone, while the ACA remains. This is not merely theater. This is farce.
Speaking of farce, Ben Carson’s campaign is imploding. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are circling each other like addled tigers in a fighting pit, with Trump still far ahead in the national polls. One gets the sense that “The Donald” at this point could call a press conference, bite the heads off 12 live chickens and paint his face with their blood while screaming about Muslims and immigrants and protesters’ coats, and still get a bump in the polls. Good TV, you see.
It has gotten so bad that the GOP infrastructure has turned its lonely eyes to Marco Rubio, who has never met a ridiculous policy proposal he didn’t like, for electoral salvation. Jeb Bush, for all practical purposes, has ceased to exist. The rest is only a fathomless blank hum between the spheres. If any of these candidates ever managed to find two good ideas to rub together, they’d discover fire and incinerate themselves.
Here lies the current state of conservatism in the United States. It would be genuinely funny but for the grim reality it represents. The fact that Congress still wastes its time and our money tilting at Obamacare windmills for show, that the GOP field is occupied by candidates any just society would laugh out of the room, and that a birdbarn in Oregon has become ground zero for some fuzzbrained fight for so-called freedom sounds a clarion call of warning. It only gets weirder from here.
Maybe the guy with the bag over his head is on to something. I don’t want to see it, either.