Fox News’ “fair and balanced” slogan is “a ‘fuck you’ to people with brains,” Jon Stewart told reporters in Denver last week.

It was a nicely acidic remark, better than much of what Stewart does on his fading Comedy Central show these days, but it missed the larger point.

Everything playing out in politics right now is a “fuck you” to people with brains. Until the Democratic convention, with its smarts and unfamiliar good cheer, the contempt being ladled over thoughtful, rational, patient, compassionate Americans came out of vats the size of dumpsters. So it has been for eight years.

There is nothing rational about politics now. Never has there been more at stake and never has the argument over the future of the West been more unhinged, spun, fact-free, deceptive, harmful, debased and injurious to the dignity and intellect of the voters watching it unfold.

With climate change and rising oil prices — “the fierce urgency of now” as Barack Obama calls it — the timing has never been better for a highway pileup of the rationalists versus the nutters, the modern versus the ossified, the Democrats versus the Republicans. Rarely has it mattered more. And rarely have the nutters had things their way for so long.

They’re running things even now. South Ossetia was a skit for a big war Dick Cheney would love to start now. Vladimir Putin is right to say that George Bush staged the conflict between Georgia and a cozy Russian colony. Of course he did, to alarm the un-bright American demographic with a reminder of the Russian menace of old. Just before the election.

This was the script as the Democrats met. Both journalists and voters fell for it. It is so easy to sucker the unread and the foolish.

Ideology trumps sanity and decency

I doubt the slimy fantasist Jerome Corsi, the man who helped Swift-Boat John Kerry in 2004, will sell many copies of his appalling book on Obama, snarkily titled The Obama Nation. All that matters is that the right-wing slander machine spins out the book’s lies for as long as possible. When you’re doing shift work in a Rubbermaid factory, talk radio comes through your headphones. You’ll be listening to filtered Corsi, a man whose idea of civilized commentary is to call Hillary Clinton a “lesbo.”

The man is clearly mad. Yet he’s the toast of the Republican party, where ideology trumps sanity and decency every time.

More madness? Hark, this is a country where schools now hold shooting drills — fire drills are old-school — for the next Virginia Tech. The mnemonic or “three-step program” is “Get out, hide out or take out.” The mandatory training video costs $1,500 per school, and experts call it “fear marketing” that is nothing more than a manual for aspirant killers. But the salesman, a Randy Spivey, is getting rich.

Americans need a Joseph Welch to cry out “Have you no shame?” but they’re past that point. They’re beyond shame. This isn’t politics, it’s bear-baiting.

I shouldn’t have had to watch Obama’s magnificent speech on Thursday night with the dread fear that he would be shot to death on live television but that is what I did, and I was grateful that at least Joe Biden would be there to keep the Democrats standing if it did happen.

And on Monday comes the Republican slide show. Commentator Joe Bageant says the four cornerstones of Republican dogma are “emotion substituted for thought, fear, ignorance and propaganda.” The convention will be all this, set to music. Bad music. Republicans don’t love rock ‘n’ roll, America’s gift to the human race. If only that’s all I had against Republicans.

The Republicans are going to parade a tiny old hateful man named McCain who has to be told how many homes he owns (it’s now up to 10) and who just named the political equivalent of his local school crossing guard as his vice-presidential candidate. There’s Sarah Palin in a rain slicker with her little stop sign.

We may see the turncoat Joseph Lieberman, the Austrian cartoon Arnold Schwarzenegger (the man who once said “eating isn’t cheating” when he was caught âe¦ oh never mind), the steaming lump of coal that is the party’s heart, Dick Cheney, the daft Laura Bush, the destroyer of nations George Bush (I don’t mean Iraq, I mean his), the cross-dresser and cousin-marrier Rudy Giuliani, the gastric-banded misogynist Mike Huckabee âe¦

I will watch this so you don’t have to. I like my readers, you see.

I remember a British politician named Michael Howard losing any chance he had at leading the Conservative Party because a colleague said of him, damningly, “He has something of the night about him.”

And the sinister Howard did, and the phrase finished him off.

That’s what happens in a literate nation.

Cindy McCain’s troubles can be understood

Here, in bookless clueless North America, I’ll be reduced to saying “There’s something of the Foghorn Leghorn about Tom Ridge, haw haw haw.” Oh look, Karl Rove’s been hired as a commentator on Fox. Now I won’t need that stiff drink; the world is itself wearing beer goggles.

I remember the Republicans saying that the name “Dukakis” sounded like something you found floating in your pool. I remember the illegitimate black baby rumour the Bush machine used to destroy McCain last time. I remember the Willie Horton ads. I remember McCain calling his wife a “c–t;” I remember her years of stealing Vicodin using fake prescriptions and I surely understand why.

The cruelty, waste and stupidity will be a cloud in front of the TV that I’ll have to slice through all week. Republicans don’t care for facts. What counts is how facts are perceived, how words can be twisted to appeal to the lowest common denominator and how everything is geared to the thought processes of the simple-minded people full of hate.

Thank god for Barack Obama, thank god, thank god. But this is America’s last chance.

I remember as a young reporter following a trail of unidentifiable body parts along a railroad trestle where a man had jumped/was pushed. The white bits were the most distressing. Was that brain matter or merely fat? Was that a curve of jawbone or spine? But I lost no sleep that night.

Sorry as I was for a man whose name I’d never know, I knew my pursuit was a rational thing. I was reporting on an unexplained death.

I am doing the same thing now.

I’m watching Republicans splutter and bubble in stadiums as their greatness fades and the railway line grows dark and quiet. Is that bones? Or just rubble? Who were these people?

This Week

If you have the good fortune to spot a copy of The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, by Kate Summerscale, seize it. It’s the winner of this year’s Samuel Johnson Prize and they get things right as regularly as the Man Booker gets them wrong. It’s the factual account of a three-year-old boy slaughtered in a grand house in 1860, almost certainly by a servant or family member. The man investigating the crime, Det-Insp James Whicher, was one of the first great detectives and the case spawned the great genre of crime fiction. Summerscale’s genius is in her tone, her feel for the intricacies of human hatred and loyalty, her rationality and her “ferretting.” She teaches us that little, aside from DNA, is new in crime investigation. We owe much to the Victorians.

Heather Mallick

Heather Mallick has a nice old-fashioned M.A. in English literature from the University of Toronto. She has worked as a reporter, copy editor and book review editor at various Toronto newspapers and...