On Thursday at a conference sponsored by the American Conservative Union, Ben Domenech, the publisher of The Federalist, had an illuminating exchange with Senator Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who once called Donald Trump “a pathological liar,” but has since lined up behind the billionaire who spread lies about his father, insulted the appearance of his wife, and nicknamed him “Lyin’ Ted.”
Domenech and Cruz attempted to understand U.S. politics through The Simpsons, the long-running cartoon comedy that anticipated a Donald Trump presidency in 2000.
Their focus was an episode of the show about the gun debate:
Ben Domenech: You’re a big fan of The Simpsons. I know you believe that they can tell us a lot about America. And I actually believe that you can learn a lot about deep policy by using The Simpsons as a starting point. For instance, when Homer and Lisa were having a conversation about gun rights in America—look it up, it’s in “The Cartridge Family” episode—Homer points out that guns are for things like protecting your family, hunting delicious animals, and making sure that the King of England never shows up to push you around.
Ted Cruz: All good things.
Domenech: Lisa’s response to this is to say, well, Dad, it’s actually a relic, a remnant of the Revolutionary War era that doesn’t really mean anything anymore. What do you say to that?
Ted Cruz: I think the Democrats are the party of Lisa Simpson. And Republicans are happily the party of Homer, and Bart, and Maggie, and Marge.
Americans should be able to hunt or protect their family with a gun.
But without going all Comic Book Guy, they got the episode of The Simpsons somewhat wrong. Marge is extremely upset when Homer brings home his new handgun:
And an armed Homer is more a menace to his family than a protector or provider.
Still, Cruz’s partisanship analogy has a lot of truth to it. Imagine if we had to pick our leaders from the world of The Simpsons. Lisa Simpson, with her conversions to vegetarianism and Buddhism and her recurring focus on environmentalism, is definitely a Democrat. And she is often at odds with the rest of Springfield and Red America.
If she ran for office she’d fare poorly in a Republican primary.
And Lisa has real flaws that make her fall short of the ideal leader. In her worst moments, she can be a bit of a sanctimonious know-it-all, and sometimes has an over-simplistic, 8-year-old’s view of the world that causes her to be unduly harsh toward others. I wouldn’t be dismissive of Republicans if they preferred to hold up compassionate conservative Ned Flanders or innovative businessman Herbert Powell as their model (or if they were dead set against elevating the corrupt Joe Quimby, or Disco Stu, who’d just preside over throwback, 1970s-style gas lines and malaise).
But over the course of “The Cartridge Family” episode alone, Homer has a background check that turns up his history in a mental institution and his assault on a former president; points his handgun at his wife’s face; agrees to let his 10-year-old son borrow the gun; accidentally shoots up the snack bar at the firing range; brandishes the weapon at the immigrant who runs the Kwik-E-Mart; accidentally fires off three rounds at the dinner table; hides the gun in the refrigerator, where his son finds it; sends his terrified family fleeing for their lives to a motel; and then, while hosting an NRA meeting, he uses his gun as a can opener and shoots at his television, drawing gasps from his fellow NRA members, who scold, “I’ve never seen such recklessness! You could have killed someone! Are you some kind of moron!”
If Lisa falls short of perfection, her flaws aren’t exactly disqualifying, especially when one remembers her consistent honesty, integrity, good heart, and generally level head. And yet, I really do think today’s Republican base would be so bothered by her mild sanctimony that they would prefer Homer Simpson: a blundering, impulsive, self-centered, undisciplined incompetent.
Homer is a cartoonishly bad citizen and leader, even for a cartoon. A political party that acted on the attitudes that make Homer seem more appealing would become cartoonishly absurd.
It would be exactly as if the Republican Party lined up 15 or 16 possible standard-bearers, then chose to elevate a tabloid mainstay who ran multiple businesses into bankruptcy; started an online university that defrauded credulous working-class strivers; bragged that he grabs women by the genitals without asking; stood accused of sexual misconduct by 19 women; walked through the changing room of a beauty pageant for teens; flaunted an adulterous affair to humiliate his first wife; taunted a nuclear-armed tyrant on Twitter; praised multiple authoritarian human-rights abusers; called for jailing an opponent despite having invited her and her husband to his third wedding; hired a sleazy operative for foreign interests to manage his campaign; put his son-in-law in charge of achieving peace in the Middle East; gave a former contestant on his reality TV show a job in the White House; denigrated religious and ethnic minority groups to boost his support among bigots; and gave a radio shock jock explicit permission to call his daughter “a piece of ass.”
Even Homer, who is not cruel-hearted, would know better than to do much of that.
But the GOP as a whole now aspires no higher than Homer. Trump is held up by some of his supporters as the best Red America has to offer. Lisa has never been so condescending. And if Trump’s numbers are any indication, the Republican Party is at risk of losing America’s Marge Simpsons, many of whom would find themselves agreeing with the A.V. Club:
Ted Cruz has apparently watched The Simpsons his entire adult life without once realizing that Lisa is the smartest member of the family, and the only one who routinely offers sensible suggestions about ways to improve the world.
The irony is that one can absolutely imagine Lisa Simpson graduating cum laude from Princeton, competing in debate, attending Harvard law, editing the law review, clerking for the Supreme Court, working in a private law firm, being appointed solicitor general of her home state, and eventually winning a seat to the Senate, where colleagues would think of her as brilliant but express annoyance at her know-it-all smugness and sanctimony. In a way, isn’t Ted Cruz the Lisa Simpson of the U.S. Senate?
The difference, known to viewers of “Lisa’s Wedding”: she’d have sooner stuck to her principles and lost reelection than become subservient to a rival who insulted her family. (She’d have savaged any Democrat who called them deplorable and irredeemable, too.)
Like Ted Cruz, I believe that the Constitution guarantees an individual right to bear arms, and in my perfect world, Lisa Simpson would be the jazz critic at Vox, not run the executive branch. But so long as the choice is Homer versus Lisa, then I say Lisa 2020.
After all, “Reading, Writing and Refilling the Ocean” doesn’t sound so bad:
Especially given the alternative on offer:
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