The visit of a tiny bird to Portland last week has brought a tone of merriment to what has otherwise been a pretty horrific presidential campaign so far. Birdie Sanders has bewitched people around the world (“Här stjäl fågeln showen—från ‘Birdie’ Sanders”) and thrilled those lucky enough to be in attendance.
Even cynical reporters have been charmed by the incident. Shaun King/New York Daily News: “I’m deeply moved by the tenderness of this sweet little bird that flew to Bernie’s podium tonight in Portland. They are calling it #BirdieSanders. In an age of ugly and destructive politics, it was beautiful to see the bird, see Bernie’s beautiful reaction to the bird, see the crowd explode with joy, then see Bernie Sanders say the bird was a sign for world peace and no more war!” (For those who haven’t seen the footage, it can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhezYYiTUm0.)
Indian Country Today reported, “Some, identifying the bird as a sparrow, shared memes on the ancient symbolism of the tiny bird as a Christian ’symbol of triumph after long suffering,’ and as a symbol for peasants and lower classes of Europe who felt helpless under an oppressive feudal system. However, the Portland Audubon Twitter account identified it as a house finch—a bird indigenous to the United States.”
Sanders supporters naturally believe that the bird’s comfort level with their candidate says something about the kind of person he is, that he was getting a blessing from nature.
But if Birdie was offering a message, we think it was this one: What have you people done to politics?
It took a little bird to show how politics can be fun, which raises the question of why it isn’t anymore. Even the supposedly lighthearted occasions like the White House Correspondents Dinner are full of hard-edged, bitter humor—just one more way people attack each other in D.C.
It’s not the kind of fun that accompanied Franklin Roosevelt talking about Fala or John Kennedy at the Al Smith Dinner.
Republicans have become rigid and intransigent, and Democrats have lost their ability to spin and compete. Both sides are humorless.
Here’s an example of the fun that once was in politics. In 1936, FDR spoke at the New York Democratic Convention in Syracuse and poked fun at the way Republicans said they would not disrupt Democratic programs if they were returned to power:
“Of course we believe these things. We believe in Social Security. We believe in work for the unemployed. We believe in saving homes. Cross our hearts and hope to die, we believe in all these things. But, we do not like the way the present administration is doing them. Just turn them over to us. We will do all of them. We will do more of them. We will do them better. And, most important of all, the doing of them will not cost anybody anything.” (This one can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3RHnKYNvx8.)
The Republican Party of the United States today has a very different problem. It is drawing very close to destroying our political system. That’s bad enough. But it’s also doing it with bad theater.