When it comes to the craziness of politics, I usually feel superior to my American relatives. They labour under the delusion, fed by The West Wing and a narrowly focused U.S. media, that American politics are interesting.
Most of the time, I would have to disagree. Let's start with Canada, which has five elected federal parties, not a measly two. We've got left wingers and right wingers, we've got a Green, and we've got separatists. We create a new major political movement every 10 to 20 years.
(CCF, NDP, Progressives, Progressive Conservatives, Reform, Bloc Quebecois, and so on.)
But forget Canada. We shouldn't be small-minded. Look at Britain, governed by a shaky coalition that looks to be at one another's throats half the time. Or Belgium, which went without a formal government for 541 days! (Almost no one really noticed.) Or Norway, where government policies led to a rash of butter-smuggling.
But for at least a little while, I think the Americans have the edge. Specifically, the Republican race for president seems to have sucked up 90 per cent of the world's available supply of crazy.
Some of the current leading candidates heading into the Iowa primary next month include a man running on a family-values platform, after cheating on and leaving two previous wives. There's a quasi-libertarian who for years sent out a newsletter that, among other things, blamed crime on AfricanAmericans. There's a former governor who is backing away from every major policy decision he's ever made, just to appease the rabid far right in his party.
And those are the frontrunners. Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Mitt Romney.
Even more fascinating than the potential winners are the failures and alsorans.
Herman Cain, a pizza chain mogul who threw out policy notions in snappy sound bites, and seemed averse to any idea that he couldn't fit on three pieces of paper. He dropped out after revelations about sexual harassment and an affair emerged.
Michelle Bachmann, a congresswoman, was a leading candidate, despite her relative inexperience. She once claimed that earthquakes are a message from God to politicians.
Rick Perry, Texas governor, also seemed sure to be a major force. Unfortunately for his supporters, he can't remem-ber anything - like what programs he wants to eliminate if he becomes president. He's falling in the polls, and has resorted to attacking gays serving in the military to try to win back support.
Then there's poor John Huntsman, by far the most centrist of the pack, who has neither done nor said anything insane so far. He is, of course, trailing badly.
In most western democracies, the leaders of this bunch would not be acceptable candidates. It's hard to imagine anyone in Canada voting for them. Republican party members seem to be confused, too. They've enthusiastically embraced Bachmann, Perry, Cain, and Gingrich, and each in turn has then stumbled badly. Paul appears to be the next in line for this treatment.
Normally, I'd try to glean some lesson about American political culture or U.S.-Canadian differences from this mess. But I'm not sure if there's much to be learned in the short term. Maybe it's just a fluke that the Republicans don't have a single strong candidate. Maybe this year's dominance of the Tea Party movement is just skewing the outcomes. Maybe Barrack Obama really is a master manipulator, and he's the one behind all this.
I'm not sure, but I know it's the most entertaining show in politics right now.
Matthew Claxton is a reporter for the Langley Advance.