Today is April Fools' Day, the one day of the year set aside for trying to prank friends or strangers without appearing juvenile. Newspapers, magazines, and even television programs have used the day to fool people.
Among the most well-known are the BBC's 1957 spaghetti tree hoax, which featured footage purportedly showing the Swiss harvesting spaghetti from trees, and George Plimpton's 1985 Sports Illustrated story about a New York Mets prospect named Hayden Siddhartha "Sidd" Finch who could throw a 168 mile per hour fastball and pitched wearing a single hiking boot. The Mets played along with the hoax, allowing Sports Illustrated to photograph someone playing the role of Finch with various Mets figures and even assigning him a jersey and locker room.
According to novelist Jonathan Dee, who was Plimpton's assistant at the time, Plimpton was a "wreck" while writing the Sports Illustrated piece, fearful of a flop. "I still remember my naïve astonishment at the sight of a world-famous, successful writer actually agonizing over whether something he'd written was good enough, funny enough, believable enough," wrote Dee, "or whether the whole thing would wind up making him seem like a national jackass."
So instead of risking looking like a jackass by trying to fool you, I've rounded up some jackass politicians making fools out of you 365 days a year, whether you expect it or not. The list is by no means a complete one…
1. LELAND YEE
California state Sen. Leland Yee (D-Senate District 8) might have wished the feds waited until this week to reveal their 137-page criminal complaint against him, charging the anti-gun legislator with political corruption and conspiracy to traffic guns. "Anti-Gun Lawmaker Charged With Gun Trafficking," after all, is the stuff of The Onion headlines (and of the "Not The Onion" subreddit).
Yee's anti-gun stances are typical among Democrats in places like California, but Yee was an especially outspoken advocate of more gun control. He had no issue using the 2013 massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, to push his agenda: "4 weeks after Newtown I'm still shocked & prepared to take steps to stop gun violence," Yee tweeted last January, while peddling a bill to "strengthen" a ban (how do you strengthen a ban?) on "assault weapons" in California.
No matter how strong a ban, a product can rarely, if ever, be eliminated from the marketplace. Witness the drug war. And there are always your Leland Yees, members of the political class ready to demonize a product and restrict your freedoms while planning to profit from it themselves.
2. JOHN MCCAIN
On NPR this weekend, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) pushed for the U.S. to send weapons to its "friends" in Ukraine. He said he understood Americans' "cold war weariness," but followed it up by invoking greiving mothers in Syria. "I'm sure that the mothers in Syria who have lost their children are war weary also," McCain said, suggesting American inaction against Syrian President Bashar Assad was to blame.
McCain's previous efforts to drum up American intervention in Syria have mostly failed; the U.S. has been sending military aid to Syrian rebels, but it's not as much support as McCain would like.
McCain and other hawks in Congress (and outside of it) will keep pushing for military intervention around the globe even as it contributes to the exploding national debt, which Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen called the greatest threat to national security.
3. MIKE ROGERS
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, has been a key water-carrier for the surveillance operations of the National Security Agency (NSA) and other agencies of the federal government.
After Edward Snowden disclosed the NSA's massive domestic data gathering programs, Rogers suggested Snowden might be a Chinese spy, because he was in Hong Kong when he revealed his identity. Snowden was charged with espionage and eventually made it to de facto asylum in Russia, so then Rogers helpfully suggested Snowden was a Russian spy.
Rogers may be retiring at the end of his current term to take his show to talk radio, but he's still got a bill vying to be the "reform" legislation promised after the NSA spying revelations. And that bill would actually strengthen the agency's ability to collect data as it pleases.
4. HARRY REID
Did you hear the one about the Koch brothers being responsible for holding up government spending on Ukraine? Or how the Obamacare website doesn't work because Americans don't know how to use the Internet? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has been on a roll recently, but unfortunately he's not kidding.
Reid has been at the forefront of mindless pro-Democratic propaganda, trotting out canards like the one that everyone's "willing to pay more taxes" (except Republicans!) and explaining that the postal service should be saved because "seniors love getting junk mail."
These antics are a way for Reid and Democrats to avoid having to prioritize government spending. The last time the Senate actually passed a real budget was 2009. Since then, it's been largely short-term deals. This year, the Senate doesn't plan on voting for a budget because, Democratic leaders argue, last year's two-year budget deal suffices. The government will keep spending because, as Reid reminded us, cowboys need poetry.
5. JOHN BOEHNER
Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) has been House speaker since Republicans won 63 seats in the 2010 midterm elections and took control of the lower house of Congress. Democrats had controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency since Barack Obama's election in 2008, and their 2010 losses were a reaction to the policies they advanced (Obamacare!) during this time period. Since then, Democrats like our buddy Reid have used GOP control of one half of one branch of government to blame all of our problems on Republican "extremists" in Congress—and Boehner is happy to oblige the narrative.
He bemoans caucus members in Congress who insisted on holding the line on government spending increases. Throughout the debt crises, Boehner—the highest Republican office-holder in the U.S.—claimed he was interested in holding the line on government spending, too, while at the same time insisting "Tea Party" members in the House were preventing him from making a deal. The two-year budget deal struck last year in spite of opposition by those members suggests the intransigent Tea Party Republicans were preventing Boehner not from making a deal, but from being able to keep up the appearance of being a fiscal conservative.
6. JOE BIDEN
Joe Biden is his own class of fool, and the epitome of the American politician failing upward. Call Barack Obama a "storybook" because he's an "articulate" and "clean" African-American politician? Get chosen as Obama's running mate. Spend 35 years in the Senate contributing to the growing problems of government? Get elected vice president.
He asked a paraplegic to stand up for a round of applause. He's in charge of the White House effort to prevent "gun violence," but has dispensed illegal advice about discharging a shotgun in the air. In an era when marijuana legalization is making unprecedented headway, he's proud to be the guy who brought you the drug czar.
Through all this, Joe Biden doesn't see any reason he shouldn't run for president in 2016.
7. BARACK OBAMA
If you like your president, you can keep him. Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012 with less votes than he got in 2008—the first time that's happened in a U.S. presidential election—despite running against Mitt Romney, a candidate who ran a horrible campaign himself.
The 2013 Snowden disclosures put Obama and his administration on a defensive that ended up revealing their deceptions. The administration's weaponization of the Internal Revenue Service, meanwhile, is just one manifestation of the hyper-partisan atmosphere the executive branch has fed on while expanding its powers, a far cry from the promise that a vote for Obama wouldn't be a vote for George W. Bush's third term.