So I’m reading through Geert Wilders’s contribution to the February 18 Dutch cabinet debate over the Afghanistan mission that eventually led to the fall of the Dutch cabinet, and here’s what he has to say:
Nederland heeft zelden zo’n zooitje ongeregeld bij elkaar gezien. CDA en PvdA vechten elkaar publiekelijk de tent uit en wantrouwen elkaar tot op het bot. De gezichten van minister Bos en minister Verhagen op tv spreken boekdelen. Ze kunnen elkaars bloed wel drinken. Hun gezichten tonen afschuw en achterdocht. Heel Nederland ziet het. Heel Nederland ruikt het. En weer heeft de premier geen enkele regie, hij ziet nu ook al zijn vierde kabinet uit elkaar spatten. Hij is totaal machteloos. Balkenende staat er bij en kijkt ernaar.
Quick, crappy/inaccurate translation: “Seldom has the Netherlands seen such a disorganized mess. The Christian Democrats and Labor are throwing each other out of the tent in public, and mistrust each other to the bone. The faces of Minister Bos and Minister Verhagen on TV speak volumes. They could drink each others’ blood. All Holland can see it. All Holland can smell it. And again the PM has no leadership whatsoever, he can see his fourth cabinet coming apart. He’s completely powerless. Balkenende just stands there watching.”
What’s striking here is that this little passage has absolutely no policy content. (Trust me, the rest of his speech was pretty much the same.) This is entirely a description of politics as reality TV show; rather than thinking of himself as a political figure with a role to play in government, Wilders casts himself as the grumpy viewer looking on in and critiquing. He’s playing Beavis and Butthead to the actual business of governance. He has, in fact, nothing sensible of his own to say; he sticks to snide commentary on the spectacle of politics, and tries to avoid any coherent policy statements that might tie him to a position long enough for someone to point out how idiotic and unworkable it is. When he finally lays out his position on Afghanistan, it’s this: “For the PVV it’s simple: Out of Uruzgan, out of Afghanistan. Of course the Taliban must be fought, but no more, to the extent we were doing so, by the Netherlands. Our country has done more than enough. We’ve had it.”
This is it? Somebody has to fight the Taliban, but not us? Is this an adult speaking?
I think there’s something broadly familiar in this stance that resonates with the way similar political figures in other countries cast themselves. (Think of Sarah Palin yammering about Washington elites, then tossing out three-word platitudes. Drill, baby, drill!) Somehow these politicians are able to fashion themselves as avatars of the grumpy ignoramuses watching the spectacle of politics at home on their TV sets, cussing and cracking stupid jokes at the screen; they incarnate a stupid knowingness about politics, just as Beavis and Butthead incarnated a stupid knowingness about music.
At one level you could applaud this all as a masterful gesture of detournement on the part of a population too long treated as idiots by a manipulative political system. You want to treat us as idiots? We’ll give you idiots! The problem, however, is that they are, in fact, giving us idiots, and while this made for arguably amusing early-90s TV, it’s kind of screwing up the world.
My final supporting plank for this argument relies on a visual point that has been made by others, but not, I believe, anywhere near often enough:
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