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Commentary: America's loose screws

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By Donald Kaul

My feeling continues to grow that somewhere deep in the psyche of the American people there is a screw loose.

We entered the 21st century as the most powerful nation on earth. There was nobody second. We had our problems, certainly, but we also had a budget surplus, a reasonable foreign policy, and a bright future.

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At which point the American people, in their wisdom, elected an ignoramus from Texas to lead them. He led them into two wars, a crushing public debt, and a financial crisis of historic proportions.

Having been barely recovered from that folly, a good many people -- Republicans, mainly -- seem ready to do it again, Texas ignoramus and all.

The Republican presidential primary race has turned into a clown show with contestants vying for the spotlight by saying and doing increasingly outrageous things. Think Sarah Palin riding into Washington on a motorcycle.

Think also of Newt Gingrich announcing his candidacy with a rip-roaring, Obama-bashing speech, and then almost immediately going on a two-week vacation in the Greek Islands.

That was a bit much for his campaign staff, who expected a more serious effort, so they quit. (It was perhaps the first time in political history that the rats deserted ship before it had even left the dock.)

And where did they go? Several of Newt's top advisers are now working for Rick Perry, the governor of Texas and the Republican Party's new flavor of the month. Perry hasn't said he's running yet, but a lot of Republicans want him to.

Now in many ways Perry is an attractive candidate. He's good-looking, well spoken, and he exudes a certain air of confidence, always a good thing for a politician. He's been governor for 10 years now and has shown some political smarts.

But scratch that shiny surface and what you get is a tea party nut job.

He's not only against gay marriage; he's for unconstitutional and unenforceable bans on gay sex. He has indicated agreement with the comments of an evangelist who said that those who don't take Christ as their savior are going straight to Hell.

He's refused federal stimulus money for the unemployed, on the grounds that it might cost the state some money down the road.

He's expressed sympathy for the right of Texas to secede from the Union (although he's said he wouldn't advise it).

He's indicated that he believes in "scientific creationism," which he calls "a valid scientific theory," and wants it taught in the schools on equal footing with evolution.

Did I mention that this is the 21st century? This guy isn't even a 20th-century leader; he's a 19th-century politician. And he's the Republican Party's Great Hope?

A decade ago I would have dismissed his chances out of hand but now I'm not so sure. Last year a Gallup Poll found that 40 percent of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form no longer than 10,000 years ago.

That's even more unscientific than "scientific" creationism.

Wait, it gets worse. This spring, Gallup found that 47 percent of Americans want their lawmakers to vote against raising the debt ceiling. This is like wanting them to vote against gravity.

I talked to a financial adviser recently and he said that there was no chance that Congress wouldn't raise the debt ceiling. "It would be catastrophic not to," he said. "Unthinkable."

Ha! I've got news for him. We need a new national motto: "The preposterous we do immediately; the unthinkable takes a little longer."

Maybe two loose screws.

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. www.otherwords.org

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