Sunday, April 3, 2011
IDLE MAUNDERINGS ON A SUNDAY MORNING
Being a man of the left in America has condemned me to a lifetime of disappointments, so I think I know something of what it is like to have one's hopes dashed. Still and all, through imperial adventures and reactionary assaults on working men and women and outright bigotry, I am proud to say that I have never descended to the embarrassment of magical thinking. This small self-congratulation is prompted by the latest bizarrerie of the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives. As some of you may have noted, on Friday [April Fool's Day, but I am pretty sure they did not mean it as a joke], the House, driven by its Tea Party fanatics, passed a budget cutting bill in which it states, in the body of the legislation, that if the Senate does not reply to this bill by a date mentioned, the bill will, despite not having been passed by the Senate or signed by the President, automatically become law. Democratic Representative Anthony Wiener responded brilliantly to this bit of fantasy thinking by reading on the floor of the House a little book sold in the House gift shop called SENATE MOUSE AND HOUSE MOUSE, a rhymed explanation for little children of how a bill becomes law in the American system of government. Clearly the correct way to respond to this act of the House is clinically, not politically. We need to use the tools of modern psychiatry to try to understand what derangement of normal thought processes has occurred in the two hundred and eleven men and women who engaged in this folie a tous. Here is my best effort. The true believers who were elected to the House in a wave of right wing ressentiment last November do not really have a serious interest in governing, nor do they have a deep-rooted appreciation of the complex reality of the American political system. They are not stupid [for the most part], and if given a spot quiz on the basic rules for the enactment of legislation, they would, I am sure, all select in a multiple choice the answer that specifies the necessity for securing Senate votes and Presidential signature. But they are consumed with a deep hatred of the way things have been going in America in the last generation or more -- roughly since they were children -- what with Blacks and women and Gays and Hispanics and now Muslims crowding into the public square and even hi-jacking the White House, and their complete inability to stem what they see as a slide into damnation [or "socialism," as they like to call it] has made them frantic. They could have come to Washington eager to cut deals that moved the federal government closer to what they believe is true and right and good, but that would have involved actually taking seriously the process of governing. Instead, they launched into a series of symbolic acts [reading the Constitution on the floor of the House, for example] and fruitless legislating that has no hope of becoming law, only to see their very own leader, John Boehner, cutting backroom deals with his Democratic counterparts in the Senate. This sequence of events has driven them wild with despair, and in a desperate effort to maintain their sanity, they have wrapped themselves in magical thinking -- in the obsessive fantasy that if they only say something uncompromisingly and repeatedly and loudly, surrounding it with all the trappings of faux reality, it will somehow come true. Magical thinking is not confined to the halls of Congress. Bills have been introduced in a number of state legislatures to put the state finances on the gold standard [with state obligations payable only in gold -- or, for the bimetallists among you, in gold and silver.] There are secessionist stirrings in Tennessee. [If you try for a moment to imagine landlocked Tennessee seceding from the Union, you will get some sense of the extent to which thinking on the extreme right has become unhinged from reality.] I view all of this rather hopefully, I must rather shamefacedly confess. To be sure, there are dangers associated with having a sizable minority of the population go bonkers, especially since they are probably all in possession of multiple firearms. Nevertheless, my heart quickens just a bit at the thought that they might be driven by their frustration and hysteria into forming a third party, which would ease the way for the election of a more progressive Congress. But mostly, this is for me a happy visit to the land of schadenfreude. Unlike television commentators, I am not compelled to pretend that I view this development with dismay. So, in a life that has seen its fair share of bitter disappointments, I propose to enjoy the moment.