Will we be ruled by April fools?

We are living in a time when absurdity is no longer confined to one day, but is established as a lasting condition.

    Rick Santorum has been using the 'Etch-a-Sketch' slip up made by a Romney adviser to attack the former Massachusetts governor [GALLO/GETTY]
    Rick Santorum has been using the 'Etch-a-Sketch' slip up made by a Romney adviser to attack the former Massachusetts governor [GALLO/GETTY]

    New York, NY - The United States - and much of the rest of the western world - celebrates April 1 as April Fools' Day. It is a time for playing jokes or making up news or events followed by a "gotcha" smile and the exclamation: "April fool!"

    Online, there are April Fools websites packed with pranks you can try to get a big laugh. What's not worth chuckling about, however, is that the gap between what's true and what we think is - or should be - true is growing. And there's nothing really funny about that.

    US politicians have been playing April Fools games for months. You can't make up all the gaffes that ooze out of their motor mouths. A few cases in point:

    A Mitt Romney adviser compares his candidate to an "Etch-A-Sketch" toy with the insinuation that, come the general election, he will simply erase his former positions and come up with new ones.

     Santorum picks up southern primary wins

    Rick Santorum spends months playing the ultra-Catholic card, blasting contraception to pander to Catholic voters. And then a poll comes out showing that most Catholics prefer Romney the Mormon. That joke's on him.

    Newt Gingrich continues to talk about a "Newt Gingrich administration" even as he continues to lose primaries. His campaign is kept afloat by one zillionaire donor - a gambling mogul tied to the most extreme settlers in Israel, a relationship that our media rarely explores.

    And President Obama flits from issue to issue. One day, he supports the war in Afghanistan to show how tough he is on terrorists. The next day, a poll finds a whopping 69 per cent of the US wants us to get out of there.

    Romney has stayed away from speaking out on most real-world problems. His most recent foreign policy statement is that he considers Russia to be the United States' main enemy. Some cold wars never die.

    The electorate doesn't know what to think. A majority is supposed to be against "Obamacare" - a health insurance scheme originally created by Romney, who now prefers to forget it was his idea (or, probably, the idea of the private health industry, which pushed him into it to enhance their profits).

    Now, as the Supreme Court weighs the law's constitutionality, a New York Times survey finds 47 per cent disapproval of the healthcare plan - until respondents were asked specific questions about most of its provisions:

    • 85 per cent approve of requiring health care companies to cover existing conditions

    • 68 per cent approve of allowing children to stay on their parents' policies until they are 26.

    • 77 per cent support offering discounts on Medicare prescription drug coverage.

    Yet, even as a majority backs key reforms, 47 per cent disapprove of the law, while more Americans - 48 per cent - admit they don't understand it because it is "confusing". I am not clear what per cent of this opposition lacks the healthcare they oppose or are confused about.

    By the way, none of the people against health insurance mandates object to state governments mandating that drivers buy car insurance from private companies in order to drive legally. That mandate is apparently okay.

    You can't make this all up. Or even compare this political season to reality television, because the politicians seem dancing around issues to divert attention from real problems, while devoting most of their time to raising money.

    I wish this were an April Fools' joke.

    Meanwhile, income inequality and poverty are both growing. Perhaps it is time to remember that great leader turned martyr, gunned down in the very month of April: Martin Luther King Jr.

    No fool, he.

    Forgotten are the non-dreaming ideas of his last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (New York: Harper & Row, 1967).

    In the final chapter, Where We Are Going? King supports a guaranteed income policy that right-wingers and left-wingers had both been studying.

    It's true and also forgotten that right-wing Chicago economics hero Milton Friedman was, in his book Capitalism and Freedom, all for it.

    King wrote:

    "I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective - the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.

    "… Now we realise that dislocations in the market operation of our economy and the prevalence of discrimination thrust people into idleness and bind them in constant or frequent unemployment against their will. The poor are less often dismissed from our conscience today by being branded as inferior and incompetent. We also know that no matter how dynamically the economy develops and expands it does not eliminate all poverty.

    "We have come to the point where we must make the non-producer a consumer or we will find ourselves drowning in a sea of consumer goods. We have so energetically mastered production that we now must give attention to distribution. Though there have been increases in purchasing power, they have lagged behind increases in production. Those at the lowest economic level, the poor white and negro, the aged and chronically ill, are traditionally unorganised and therefore have little ability to force the necessary growth in their income. They stagnate or become even poorer in relation to the larger society."

    That was published in 1967. In 2012, movements such as Occupy Wall Street have adopted Dr King's non-violent strategy and made economic inequality a central issue.

    They are trying to create a system of politics that is not as polarised and corrupted by big money as our electoral system.

    Their preference for community over chaos has led to a chorus of criticism, chiding them for refusing to hop on the electoral bandwagon - as if that's the only way to "get things done".

    But look around at how pathetically little is getting done. What you see will drive you to conclude that we are living in a time when the absurdity of April Fools is no longer one day, but a lasting condition.

    News Dissector Danny Schechter blogs at Newsdissector.net. His new book is Occupy: Dissecting Occupy Wall Street. He hosts a weekly radio show on Progressive Radio Network. To comment, write to dissector@mediachannel.org

    Follow Danny Schechter on Twitter: @dissectorevents

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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