I suffer fairly severely from what psychologists call “empathic embarrassment”: I find it agonising to the point of physical discomfort to watch other people making fools of themselves. Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat often had me writhing and cringing on behalf of his victims – even, troublingly, when his victims were spouting horrible bigotry. I’m really not proud of this. It’s an annoying problem. And lately, it’s been particularly disconcerting to find that the person prompting me to cover my face with my hands is the notorious “conservative provocateur” James O’Keefe III. O’Keefe, of course, is the rightwing prankster who helped bring down Acorn and was then convicted in connection with a sting at the offices of Louisana Senator Mary Landrieu. But with the significant exception of the ambush of Acorn, there’s something epic – almost worthy of awed respect, if it didn’t make me cringe so much – about how astonishingly inept he is at “punking” the liberals he despises.
It’s obvious that O’Keefe’s apparent attempt in 2010 to “seduce” CNN journalist Abby Boudreau by luring her onto a boat decked out with sex props was deeply unpleasant. But the unpleasantness shouldn’t completely obscure how brain-bendingly illogical it was, too. The idea, according to an internal document from O’Keefe’s Project Veritas, was to show: “[T]hat the tables have turned on CNN. Using hot blondes to seduce interviewees to get screwed on television, you are faux seducing her in order to screw her on television.” Imagine, if you will, a hypothetical alternative universe in which this plan wasn’t remotely misogynistic or sleazy. It still doesn’t work, does it?
O’Keefe’s latest efforts concern the phantom menace of voter fraud. During last week’s North Carolina primary, he confronted two North Carolinians whom he accused of having registered to vote despite not being citizens. If you followed O’Keefe’s exploits in New Hampshire – where he tried to expose the scandal of dead people voting, but picked a non-dead voter by accident – you can probably guess the results of his North Carolina caper. That’s right: one’s certainly a citizen, and the other probably is, too.