Watching the Republican Party presidential hopefuls trip their way towards the nomination for the last 10 months reminds me of The Dancing Plague of 1518. In July 1518, one Frau Troffea began dancing fervently in the streets of Strasbourg, France. She danced for four to six days (accounts vary). Within a week, 34 others joined her. By the end of the month, 400. Medical authorities of the day attributed the outbreak to “hot blood.”
Alarmed, instead of the usual bleeding, doctors prescribed more dancing to break the feverish non-stop dancing that continued day and night, 24/7. Eventually, the afflicted dancers died from heart attack, stroke, or exhaustion. It was a cure for the plague of sorts.
More recently, the dancing mania has been considered an example of Mass Psychogenic Illness (MPI), a manifestation often brought on by extreme levels of psychological stress or spiritual despair. That certainly sounds like what the Republican party of 2012 is suffering from, as its superstar nominees fight for the chance to take on that sitting duck, Barack Obama, and his socialist Chicago thug administration.
The disease has already claimed the lives of such dancing fools as Cain, Trump, Bachmann, Perry, and Huntsman Jr. And now the Awesome Foursome -- you know their names -- are threatening to take the mania from state to state as they dance their way to Tampa this summer.
The party, MPI experts will say, has come down with a particularly bad case of the plague. It has made the candidates and their poor SuperPACs spend millions of hard earned dollars demonstrating how to commit ritual suicide before the eyes and ears of voters. Not even Terry Southern or Kurt Vonnegut could have written a darker comedy about what not to do, as the Fab Four shred each other, preparing for today's Super Duper Stupor Tuesday, when 10 states pick their favorite hoofer.
A sure sign of the dancing disease emerged during the 19 TV debates when most of the time the candidates tore into each other on trivial side issues while ignoring the glaring fissures in our society. As economist Dennis Ainsworth summarized for me while we were watching the last debate, "The real unemployment number is 23%. Young people cannot find employment, and 3.5 million high-skilled, blue-collar jobs go begging because no one is trained for them. We could be energy independent from the Middle East if we only drilled our own oil, which could create three million jobs in America and cut $500 billion of our trade deficits. And we are watching them dance the night away arguing about contraception or whether it’s truly Satan that is out to get us."
The MPI mania is making our tiring potential nominees do and say strange things. While Romney is showing his mastery of doing the chicken -- one step sideways, two steps backward on his earlier achievements -- he is showing his solidarity with average Americans by saying his wife only has two Cadillacs in the garage at home. At Daytona, he is bragging that some of his best friends own NASCAR teams.
But the most astonishing victim of the disease is Rick Santorum. In Michigan, a state the pundits were saying was his to lose, he demonstrated the plague’s impact on cognitive political reasoning. It was bad enough that he was attacking public education and higher learning, but then he decided to play the religion card -- at a time when it's the economy, stupid.
It could be argued that the Devil may have made him do such things, like saying he wanted to throw up after reading what JFK said about religious tolerance in the 1960 election. But then he trumped that by coming out solidly for eliminating separation of church and state.
At the risk of sounding like an elitist intellectual snob who went to college -- although graduating without honors and being in the bottom of my class at CCNY -- I suggest candidate Santorum re-read his Jefferson (“Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom,” et al.).
Whatever he learned in his home study history course, the seriously conservative founding fathers believed in separation of church and state. Even if you don’t, Rick.
Only the dancing plague could make a seriously conservative person like Santorum utter such nonsense in public. It’s what I would expect from that radical, Ron Paul.
And so it goes: more surprises, zany twists in logic, and votemanship as we approached Stupor Tuesday. The remaining candidates, to their credit, are dancing as fast as they can, and the party probably won’t drop dead until Election Day.