We are at the half-century mark, by my reckoning, of the merging of politics and entertainment, beginning with the emergence of a youthful, charming, telegenic John Kennedy from smoke-filled rooms filled with boring, bald-headed, cigar-chomping old men.
Today any serious candidate for president must at the very least have a full head of hair and be ready to match wits and quips with the hosts of late night talk shows.
Up here in Siskiyou County, we are taking this 50-year-old phenomenon of politics as entertainment to a new level. God only knows where it will all end up.
For starters – and I kid you not – voters here will be asked on our June 3 ballot if we want to create a Jefferson Republic. This comes from the same libertarian enclave, centered in Yreka, that had earlier proposed to create a 51st state, the State of Jefferson, and with the same goals: less government, fewer laws.
I do see some merit in the split-the-state idea, as I wrote in an Oct. 4 article, “Don’t dismiss secessionists in state’s far north,” on The Bee’s Viewpoints page. But this proposal for a Jefferson Republic is an entirely different matter.
How this “republic” will operate, or whether it can operate at all, is unclear, I think, even to its proponents, who liken it to the workings of an Indian reservation. That is, this “republic” is conceived as separate, though not really separate, from the federal government. And this quasi-Indian reservation, this libertarian country within a country, is destined to have its own currency, Siskiyou County scrip.
This is clearly not about politics in any serious sense of the word, and debating its pros and cons would be like debating with the Queen of Hearts or the Mad Hatter. But it has real value as entertainment, pure and simple. It is political entertainment in a league of its own, far beyond the relatively conventional world of John Kennedy with his clever quips or Ronald Reagan’s well-timed one-liners.
They were amateurs compared to our Siskiyou County politico-entertainers. These libertarian outriders have taken an idea, independence from oppressive government, and carried it to its logical, though absurd, conclusion. Even the great Greek comic playwright Aristophanes would have been envious (see “Lysistrata”).
It’s no surprise that a troupe of actors up here have found rich material for comedy and satire in all these shenanigans. The Siskiyou Senior Players have created a series of skits they call “State of Confusion,” in which a Gov. Skidmarker presides over a realm free of laws and regulations, where no wild animals are left other than squirrels and moles, where all the trees have been cut down and the state tree is the manzanita bush. The state’s official motto is “Not Just No, But Hell No!” (Full disclosure: My wife, Sandra, performs with the Siskiyou Senior Players.)
The proposals coming out of Yreka and environs are so rich in comedic material it would have been a sin not to mine them; the real error is to take them seriously. And there is more fodder for entertainment, for another satirical play, no doubt, in the debate currently raging between those who want a Jefferson Republic and the more timid souls who simply want a separate state.
Rising to these heights of absurdity and craziness isn’t easy, as our City Council here in Dunsmuir demonstrates. There are occasional gestures toward the theatrical and entertaining, council members stalking angrily out of meetings, “emergency” council meetings called in which there is much noise and confusion and little accomplished. But that’s all pretty much business as usual, sadly mundane compared to the inspired absurdity of a Jefferson Republic.
In a county where there is no professional sports team, not much live theater and very few movie houses, this new outbreak of political theater is a welcome form of entertainment.
What next from those folks up north around Yreka? A Siskiyou County Army? A Jefferson Space Colony? Once you go down that rabbit hole, as Alice discovered, anything is possible.
Tim Holt is a writer and journalist and the editor of the quarterly North State Review.