How low can we go? When it comes to politics, that’s a question that has a new answer nearly every day. Each time we think our campaign seems to hit bottom, somebody starts digging us in deeper. And I don’t want to tell you what they’re shoveling, because, well, you know.
So now we have Sarah Palin posting on Facebook that President Barack Obama is a “special kind of stupid.” Mind you, that’s Sarah Palin saying that. She was in a tizzy because the president has been restating since the Orlando massacre his frustration that we can’t put some limits on the easy availability of guns. Therefore, says Ms. Palin, he deserves “no due respect.” Never mind that he is the nation’s chief executive, twice elected — once when she was on the opposing GOP ticket as John McCain’s running mate.
Of course, McCain also is crossing the line with his rhetoric. Two days after Orlando, McCain told reporters that the president was “directly responsible.” After that hit Twitter, he was being showered with so much criticism that he pulled back a little bit, and said he “misspoke.” What he really meant is that Obama’s policies were responsible for ISIS.
Never mind that it was the Bush invasion of Iraq, which he so avidly supported, that created ISIS. McCain did not misspeak; he’s been in public office for a long time, and he knew exactly what he was saying. It’s just that he’s facing a tough re-election fight back home in Arizona, so he has to pander to his party’s zealots, who are head over heels in love with Donald Trump, the guy who will lead the ticket.
Trump set the tone and caused quite an uproar himself when he insinuated that President Obama was secretly sympathetic to Muslim extremists. He, too, got a lot of flak for that one. But for his supporters, who put Barack Obama at No. 1 on their hate parade, this was what they wanted to hear. John McCain clearly wanted a piece of that.
Meanwhile, there are still a few holdouts in the Republican Party doing what they can to dig their own graves. They’re the ones who are openly plotting some sort of insurrection at the party convention to deny Trump the nomination that he won fairly and squarely by being more hateful than any of the other candidates. They’re realizing that they can’t control The Donald any more than he can control himself. No matter how they try to rationalize that he’ll return to sanity now that he’s the nominee, Trump proves them wrong almost daily. And almost daily they have to answer just how it is they can support somebody whose every utterance seems to horrify them. It’s gotten to the point that when these luminaries are asked, they mostly reply that they don’t want to talk about it. Going through ethical contortions is exhausting.
It would seem to be an ideal setup for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats, but Bernie Sanders refuses to go away. He hasn’t conceded the obvious, which is that Hillary is the presumptive nominee. All that’s left for him is to be the spoiler — as in, spoiling things so badly that the Democrats find a way to lose to Donald Trump. Sanders insists he’s in it for his agenda, that he wants commitments from Hillary and the party that they will stand for elements of his progressive agenda. At some point, he’ll probably get them, and maybe a face-saving prime-time speaking slot, even though he knows full well that such commitments mean nothing in their world.
The rest of us can only watch this ridiculous game. Unfortunately, politics and government are not playthings, not little shovels to dig us in ever deeper.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including more than 20 years at CNN.