Assault on Reality

The Fortnightly Rant for November 19, 2010, from The New Hampshire Gazette, Volume 255, No. 4, posted on Saturday, January 15, 2011.

Having won a resounding victory over a confused and demoralized Democratic Party, leaders of the GOP will now take on an adversary that could prove to be far more challenging: reality. Their most obvious handicap in the looming struggle will be their nearly-complete lack of familiarity with the subject.

Republicans can hardly be blamed for their habitual avoidance of reality. Grappling with the basic building blocks of human existence has always been a fairly grim business; and the more success the Republicans have had on the policy front, the more grievous it has become. It is far more pleasant to live in a world where wishing makes things so. And for those at the top of the Republican food chain, it works.

Negotiating the tortuous path to a leadership position in this Party has to involve a great deal of self-discipline, and many moments of self-abasement. Difficult skills must be mastered, such as feigning delight at the ritualistic consumption of iconic foodstuffs and chortling at inanities from those whose greatest accomplishment was their expulsion from a privileged womb. What would be the point of earning a leadership role in the Party if, after enduring all of that, one were to be jostled incessantly by the banalities of day-to-day existence, just like some run-of-the-mill citizen?

Why maintain a cadre of fawning staffers but to provide some insulation from the burdens of office? How could one sustain an illusion of dignity suitable to one’s office without a few personal assistants fending off mundane details? What quality of life would one have without lobbyists providing carefully vetted legislation when required? And how could one slither through the thicket of importunate questions posed by swarms of press stenographers without a phalanx of think tanks issuing an unending stream of documents carefully engineered at great expense to subvert, pervert, obscure, deny, and generally neutralize The Enemy — reality.

Now that Republicans control the House of Representatives, their supporters of the Republicans have every right to expect them to deliver on their campaign promises. That means slashing spending, lowering taxes, reducing the deficit, and putting Americans back to work.

It is a program we just can’t wait to see since it could only work in the pages of the Weekly Standard, or in The Wall Street Journal, or on Glenn Beck’s TV show. We just wish we could tell whether anyone in the GOP leadership actually believes in the bill of goods it has just sold, or if it is just channeling Mr. Alardyce Merriweather, the snake oil salesman played by Martin Balsam in Arthur Penn’s Little Big Man.*

“Men will believe anything,” Mr. Merriweather said, “the more preposterous the better. Whales speak French at the bottom of the sea. The horses of Arabia have silver wings. Pygmies mate with elephants in darkest Africa. I have sold all those propositions. Well, maybe we’re all fools and none of it matters.”

Mr. Merriweather ended up tarred and feathered, but the experience failed to dent his cheerful demeanor. That was just a movie, though. The Republicans are messing around with people who are already at a near-boil. And their “solutions” are doomed to fail. That’s OK, but if they value their hides, their ploy of blaming the Democrats had better succeed.

Bring On the Purina

Back here in the land of 9.5 percent unemployment, President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, aka the Catfood Commission, emerged from its bunker to float a few trial balloons. Note to Commission: next time try using something other than lead.

The Commission’s co-chairs suggested eliminating the deductability of mortgage interest payments and the child tax credit — the two significant tax breaks currently helping ordinary Americans. And they suggested jacking up the retirement age.

They also suggested cutting the tax rates for the top income brackets, although pointing that out hardly seems necessary. In certain circles, cutting tax rates for the top brackets is the default solution to every problem known to man. Tax revenues too low? Lower the top rates. Global warming? Lower the top rates. Cholera epidemic? Lower the top rates.

Speaking of certain circles, in a nation where the rich have gotten richer for thirty years while everyone else was spun his wheels, why are the ones who must give something up the ones who didn’t get anything? The makeup of the Commission provides some clues. It is co-chaired by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles. Simpson is a second-generation Republican Senator of the Right Wing persuasion. Bowles is a second-generation investment banker; at the age of 30 he founded his own bank. And, according to the Washington Post, “one in four commission staffers [is] paid by outside entities [with] strong ideological points of view about how to tackle the deficit.”


* In tracking down this quote we learned that its presumed author was Calder Willingham, the screenwriter for Little Big Man. He also wrote the screenplays for Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory, and Marlon Brando’s One-Eyed Jacks. A native of Georgia, Willingham lived in New Hampton, New Hampshire from 1953 until his death in 1995. His obituary in The New York Times quoted him saying of New Hampton, “It’s dry, beautifully cold and quiet. I’m not distracted by other writers.”

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