You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: Truth Really Is Stranger Than Fiction
Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, one of my favorite publications was Mad Magazine. While full of sophomoric humor, including a multitude of burp and fart jokes, it also provided a healthy sense of skepticism on the face values of American culture, institutions, corporations and politicians. And as we grew older, that lighthearted cynicism tempered our innate optimism to mold us into commonsense realists when it came to what was being sold as the facts.
In addition to hilariously droll mainstays such as “Spy vs. Spy,” “The Lighter Side of …,” and “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions,” the magazine was deliciously irreverent when it came to national politics and politicians, Democrat or Republican. For decades, whether it was domestic issues, foreign policy, party leaders or presidents, Mad postulated that beneath the headlines out of Washington, there were almost always mistruths, phoniness and a lack of morals.
That brings us to today’s GOP. Donald Trump graced seven covers and that’s only because the magazine ceased publishing in 2018. The former president was an easy target for the razor-sharp pens of Mad’s artists and writers with his acute narcissism, nonsensical rhetoric and blatant lies, lowering the bar for political decorum to a point where there was no rock bottom. His trove of satire-rich material ranged from calling White supremacist demonstrators “good people” to recommending bleach to combat COVID. This set the stage for ludicrous characters such as Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., and George Santos, R-N.Y., who’s already listed secretary of state on his resume.
But Mad clearly believed in bipartisan skewering. Bill Clinton’s family graced the cover as “The Clintstones” and a smiling Barack Obama held a “Yes We Can’t” bumper sticker. Imagine the glee the magazine would have today with Hunter Biden’s laptop and the discovery of Biden’s own classified document stash, a blunder worthy of its own “Believe It or Nuts!” And Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Vice President Kamala Harris would certainly have gotten their fair share of derision.
Yet, the Republican Party’s hunger for power and celebrity has changed what was once considered a fair fight into a no-holds-barred brawl. In a two-party system, there are always going to be conflicts and ridicule, but good-natured ribbing has been replaced by unforeseen levels of animosity and labeling your counterpart as the enemy. Demonizing your opponent not only isn’t funny, there’s a direct correlation to our nation’s all-time low in confidence in all three branches of the federal government. A Mad parody might be called “Mr. Smith Is Afraid to Go to Washington,” because the truth is, Jimmy Stewart would be starring in a horror film.
It’s now payback time in the GOP House, so be prepared for investigations bordering on farcical of anything remotely related to the Democratic Party and the Biden administration. “The Lighter Side of Governing Will See Freedom (Ours, Not Yours) Caucus Stalwart Jim Jordan” leading the Judiciary Committee, “Taylor Greene on Homeland Insecurity,” “Boebert and Gosar on Lack of Oversight” and even Santos getting two assignments from “Kevin McCarthy, the First Invertebrate to Become Speaker.” And the “Right to Alternative Facts” will become the 28th Amendment. Truth or fiction? The lines are getting blurred.
In this atmosphere of acrimony and mistrust, people forget that there was a time not so long ago when members of the House and Senate from both sides of the aisle would actually share living quarters and meet for lunch between sessions. President Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill, D-Mass., may have been at odds on various issues and legislation, yet because their relationship was based on mutual respect, O’Neill would stop by the White House after work to socialize and ensure a personal connection. Can you imagine McCarthy dropping by the Oval Office to schmooze with President Biden? That would make the Cold War seem downright tropical.
There used to be a tradition in politics that honored amiable sparring and put-downs between the parties. But the line between laughing in fun and cringing from malice was obliterated when Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., redefined civil debate from “I disagree” to “you’re dangerous.” And it’s not just the nastiness of the critiques today, it’s the absurdity. Take Greene accusing Pelosi’s “gazpacho police” of spying on members of Congress. Mad’s editorial staff might have given her an award for that gem, but the GOP’s farcical mudslinging makes those of us who really care about our country almost want to cry, as truth and fiction have become interchangeable, with the sad result of the nation becoming less governable.
Looking at the future of our institutions and system of checks and balances, we’re forced to consider the existential motto of Mad’s iconic front man, Alfred E. Newman. “What, Me Worry?”
Insert a snappy answer to a stupid question.
Dave Spencer, a member of the Rockefeller family, grew up around a culture of political interest and involvement and being part of a family that is one of the pillars of philanthropy in America. A devastating car accident, which cost Dave a leg and the use of an arm, inspired him to pursue a positive, pragmatic approach to seeing the world. He created Practically Political to engage and motivate citizens who are fact- and issue-oriented, invite conversation, respect differences of opinion, believe in compromise and put sound policy before partisanship. You can reach Practically Political on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.