Mark Levin, 1430 KYKN, Tuesday Messy, Isn't It? The Life and Works of Richard Brautigan, Radio 4, Monday

If you like a fright, listen in with Mitt's folks

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The Independent Culture

Salem, with its overtones of witch trials, The Crucible and Joe McCarthy, sounds like a terrifically appropriate home town for 1430 KYKN Radio. In fact it's based in Salem, Oregon, not Salem, Massachusetts, but I refuse to let awkward facts get in the way when I've an intro to knock out.

I tuned in via the internet to see how conservative talk radio was responding to the latest bout of Romneyshambles. It was scary. One of KYKN's leading lights is Mark Levin, who said of Mitt's gaffe about it not being his job to care about the 47 per cent of US citizens who don't pay taxes: "Who cares? WHO CARES? This election is about the American Dream versus the welfare state. It's really that simple." Liberals, he said, "want to destroy your soul, your heart ... Did they let all the nutjobs out of the insane asylum, dress them as Democrats and send them out all over the country?"

What's particularly frightening about Levin is that he's not some survivalist redneck with more ammo than brains. Thirty years ago, he was helping run the country as Chief of Staff to Ronald Reagan's Attorney General. Even more terrifyingly, he served in the US Department of Education. Unless Barack Obama can head them off at the pass, the White House will be filled with people like him in a few months. Be afraid.

When Levin was in his White House pomp, the writer Richard Brautigan was blowing his brains out with a .44 Magnum. Since then he seems to have been somewhat forgotten, a huge shame: As someone told Jarvis Cocker in Messy, Isn't It? ...,"he makes ordinary life seem magical". To its credit, the programme made me want to revisit books such as Trout Fishing in America. ("Messy, Isn't It?", incidentally, is what Brautigan was supposed to have put in his suicide note.)

Curiously, the programme was conducted largely in unglamorous parts of north London, Cocker being driven around in a camper van by a Brautigan scholar, then listening in a council flat to the Brautigan-inspired band The Lovely Eggs. Given the pleasures of Cocker's easygoing style, that didn't matter; Brautigan would probably have approved.