Lefty Blogger Charles Pierce: Carson, Reagan Part of Republican Tradition of Selling ‘Snake-Oil’ to ‘Rubes’

The heyday of patent medicine, medicine shows, and related phenomena has been over for more than a century, right? Yes and no, implied Esquire blogger Charles Pierce in a Thursday post. While it’s true that (for example) Coca-Cola no longer is sold as a cure for impotence, political snake oil, Pierce asserted, has become the chief product of the Republican party.

Pierce’s peg was Ben Carson’s involvement with Mannatech, but as far as the GOP angle was concerned, “the process began with Ronald Reagan, the greatest patent-medicine salesman of them all. It was he who marketed the economic snake-oil with a wink and a smile…It was he who gulled the country with tales of Sandinistas driving jeeps across the Rio Grande, and dangerous Cuban adventurism in Grenada, while Marines were being slaughtered in their barracks. He was the best show in town.”

Nowadays, Pierce opined, “The entire Republican primary process has been rendered a travelling medicine show, and [Carson is] just one wagon in the caravan…After all, what is Republican economics, if not supply-side quackery and sleight of hand? All the candidates are playing the muscle men, flexing at Vladimir Putin and at Hafez al-Assad and at ISIL from across an ocean.”

From Pierce’s post (bolding added):

[T]o see Carson struggling with his connection to actual quack potions in the middle of a campaign based almost completely on political and historical snake-oil is to hear history singing in harmony…

Patent medicine is not a uniquely American invention…But, like so many things, once the idea got to America…the promotion and sale of patent medicines exploded into a mass-market phenomenon…

By 1905…Americans were spending over $75 million on various concoctions. There were no government regulations on the content of these "medicines"—cocaine and various opiates were very popular ingredients, as you can imagine…

As the patent medicine business grew…fine entertainments and low-rent spectacles grew around the basic fraud. Thus was born the medicine show, with its shills, its dancing ladies and its muscle men…And here is the most overwhelming irony of all…The entire Republican primary process has been rendered a travelling medicine show, and [Carson is] just one wagon in the caravan.

After all, what is Republican economics, if not supply-side quackery and sleight of hand? All the candidates are playing the muscle men, flexing at Vladimir Putin and at Hafez al-Assad and at ISIL from across an ocean. Come early, bring the kids, watch the Magic Asterisk do its work, and make gold fall from the sky into your pockets!

The process began with Ronald Reagan, the greatest patent-medicine salesman of them all. It was he who marketed the economic snake-oil with a wink and a smile. It was he who taught them how to flex and pose – fiercely denouncing terrorism while selling missiles to the mullahs. It was he who gulled the country with tales of Sandinistas driving jeeps across the Rio Grande, and dangerous Cuban adventurism in Grenada, while Marines were being slaughtered in their barracks. He was the best show in town. The starstruck rubes flocked to see him. The country swallowed the swamproot whole.

Now, because it sold so well, and because the audiences were so easily gulled, that's all there is—a decent vagabonding entertainment, rolling from town to town, pitching signs and wonders and miracle cures and can-I-get-an-Amen? So Doctor Ben Carson once was a front for some magic cancer elixir? What was that, if not the best training you can have to be a Republican candidate for president in the biggest medicine show of them all?...Step right up, rubes. Step right up.

Campaigns & Elections 2016 Presidential Economy Foreign Policy Military Conservatives & Republicans Esquire History Charles Pierce Ronald Reagan Ben Carson


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