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.
Right now, while we indulge New Hampshire’s childish insistence on its presidential primary being “first in the nation,” Americans should decide to bury this tradition. Nearly a century is enough: the Granite State has somehow turned a fluke into an entitlement. Worse, its obsession with primacy prolongs, complicates and distorts the presidential nominating process. In a democracy, no state should be first forever. People have been grumbling about this and other undemocratic anomalies for years. But the standoff between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008 gave the nominating process the equivalent of a stress test, which it failed.