If P.J. O’Rourke’s grumpy little post, I Think We Lost the Election, had struck me as just another irritable belch at having to stomach the usual idiocies of politicians I think I wouldn’t have bothered to write about it or write so much about it, at any rate.
I might have been content to point out that the government of bored, restless, and irritable amateurs who would really rather be doing something, anything, else than running the country, which O’Rourke claims to think is the ideal, would be a government run by the Sarah Palins of the world.
Or I might have gone off on how a government of bored, restless, and irritable amateurs is what the Tea Party’s trying to give us.
More likely, though, I’d have pointed out the hypocrisy behind the post. It’s a vanity, and a pose, on the part of many Republicans that their politicians aren’t really politicians and that their side never plays politics. Democrats are the party of the professional---read, corrupt---politicians and Democrats are the ones who insist on politicizing every issue, as if there can be an issue that affects the entire polis that isn’t political.
This pose is a cover. It’s a way of arguing that they should be the only ones to run things. For our own good, we should take politics out of the hands of the politicians---read, Democrats, especially liberal Democrats---and hand it over to the high-minded and self-sacrificing amateurs---read, Republican elites---who will of course put aside their own narrow self-interests when deciding how best to run things.
Probably, then, I would have gone on to write some of the same things I wrote in the first post in this series about the Republicans’ not so secret desire to bring back an aristocracy and with it a return to Feudalism. But there’s a good chance I’d have stopped there with just the one post and not gone on to churn out four.
Maybe, if I’d really thought O’Rourke was simply grousing about the all too typical venality and ineptitude of too many people in public office, from boards of selectmen on up to the United States Senate, I’d have agreed with him.
I live in New York. Watching the clown show that is our state legislature is not inspiring.
I’m happy, and relieved, that Tea Party darling and habitual sender of NSFW emails Carl Paladino, won’t be our next governor, but if he’d won he’d have been far from the biggest idiot and worst excuse for a human being in Albany.
And it’s hard not to think the worst of politics and politicians when you look at Congress these days, where we have now divided the government between two sets of incompetents, one made inept by cowardice and the constant bending over backwards to serve two masters, the people and the banks, and the other made inept by stupidity, greed, rage, and a general and thorough misunderstanding of the purpose of democratic government or, among those few who do understand it, a hatred of that purpose---for them incompetence is a deliberate method of sabotage.
We don’t live in a society composed entirely of fools, incompetents, and thieves, but we seem to want a government in which they are way over-represented.
But I don’t agree with O’Rourke because I don’t think he’s simply being irritable and cynical about some politicians.
And I don’t think that because he didn’t build his post around his suspicion that all politicians are fools, incompetents, and fools. He built it around a cynical certainty that voters are. This passage is the real heart of his post:
In a free country government is a dull and onerous responsibility. It is a parent-teacher conference. The teacher is a pompous twit. Our child is a lazy pain in the ass. We undertake this social obligation with weary reluctance. And we only do it at all because the teacher (political authority) deserves cold stares, hard questions, and maybe firing, and the pupil (that portion of society which, alas, needs governing) deserves to be grounded without TV and have its Internet access screened and its allowance docked.
O’Rourke’s analogy only works if you agree that the default position to take with teachers is that they deserve to be fired---that is that most of them are fools or incompetents if not thieves, although probably thieves too, because fools and incompetents who take taxpayers’ money even though they’re fools and incompetents are robbing taxpayers---that is, that there’s no difference between the fool, incompetent, or thief teaching your kids and the fools, incompetents, and thieves running the government, a thought that’s easily extended, because that’s what it implies, that anybody and everybody in a position of public trust is not to be trusted.
But it goes farther than that. You have agree to the premise that the entire electorate is made up over-grown and spoiled children. Which is to say that we live in a country made up of lazy brats who want everything handed to them.
And where are you supposed to see yourself in a society made up of children and run by fools, incompetents, and thieves?
Where O’Rourke sees himself.
In the position of one of the few intelligent, hardworking, honest adults.
As part of the portion of society that doesn’t need governing and, therefore, has no use for the government.
This post, which really isn’t just another piece of lazy writing on O’Rourke’s part, perfectly expresses the Right Wing Republican attitudes towards democratic self-government.
It shouldn’t be allowed to continue. “We,” that is the O’Rourkes of the world, won’t win an election until the running of the country is put entirely into “our” hands.
What I’ve been getting at---and what I’d have gotten to a long time ago if I was a better writer---is that O’Rourke’s little post sums up the the great big assault on democracy the Right has bee perpetrating since, well, forever.
And the general tactic has been to try to convince “us” that “they” aren’t worth our trust.
In this, O’Rourke, as an apostle of this point of view, goes Scrooge one better.
As I wrote in an earlier post, Scrooge isn’t actively engaged in breaking the connections the bind society together. He doesn’t set out to infect other people with his misanthropy. He isn’t a missionary in the work of unspreading Christmas cheer. All his mean and nasty jokes, his declarations of cynicism, suspicion, and contempt, all his bah-humbugging are in answer to other people’s attempts to connect with him.
He’s explaining himself not trying to convert them to his opinion that other people are nothing but fools, incompetents, and thieves.
To keep things within the confines of the book, where Dickens doesn’t expect such things to be kept, but for the purposes of making the point, we’ll keep them there to say this: Scrooge doesn’t try to ruin anybody else’s Christmas.
'Nephew!' returned the uncle sternly, 'keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.'
'Keep it!' repeated Scrooge's nephew. 'But you don't keep it.'
'Let me leave it alone, then…'
There’s no point in his conversation with Fred, or in his conversations with anyone else, where Scrooge does or says anything to discourage someone from celebrating Christmas. As Fred points out, no one suffers from Scrooge’s refusal to celebrate Christmas but Scrooge. And, by the way, any production of A Christmas Carol that has Scrooge firing Bob Cratchit on Christmas Eve is a production that doesn’t trust its audience or doesn’t trust its source material. Scrooge doesn’t do anybody much good, but he doesn’t knowingly do them any harm, although he, like all of us, have an obligation to know it. In his infamous exchange with the portly gentlemen collecting for charity---“Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” ---when he’s told that many people would rather die than go to the workhouse, he follows up his horrific joke “If they would rather die, then they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population” by telling the gentlemen that he doesn’t “know it.” He means that he doesn’t believe people would rather die.
The gentlemen are aghast.
“But you might know it,” one says, and he means Scrooge ought to take the trouble to find out the truth.
But Scrooge snaps back:
'It's not my business…It's enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people's.’
Again, this is Scrooge’s sin, going about his business as if he has nothing to do with other people. He wants to deny his connections with other people, but he doesn’t see it as any of his business if other people want to continue their connections with each other.
Scrooge won’t go to his nephew’s Christmas party, but he won’t try to stop anyone else from going. He won’t try to stop Fred from having a party. He thinks Bob Cratchit is a fool for wasting the little money he makes celebrating Christmas, but he still gives Cratchit the whole day off, and notice Scrooge assumes he has the power and the right to make Cratchit work on Christmas day.
O’Rourke and the conservative elites he speaks for are asking us not to go to the party. They’re trying to convince us we should be annoyed at those fools, incompetents, and thieves who want the whole day off and not let them have it.
It’s not enough that, Scrooge-like, we think of everybody else as fools, incompetents, and thieves. We’re meant to go Scrooge one better and deal with them as fools, incompetents, and thieves.
O’Rourke and the anti-democratic elites want to ruin Christmas for everybody by killing people’s Christmas spirit, which Dickens has Fred define as having nothing specific to do with Christianity, and everything to do with Christ quoting the golden rule:
'There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,' returned the nephew. 'Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round -- apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that -- as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.
O’Rourke and company pervert the golden rule. Instead of treating others the way they would like others to treat them, they preach: “Treat other people as if they were all fools, incompetents, and thieves.”
The Tea Party’s rallying cry, “We want to take our country back” is based on the selfish certainty that to share the country and its benefits with people they don’t like is to have lost it. It’s all or nothing with them.
But they’re cowards in not being able to face up to their own selfishness, so they’ve found an excuse for it.
It’s not, they would say---do say---that they’re not willing to share. It’s that they’re not willing to be robbed.
Or taken advantage of.
They’d gladly share with “them” if only “they” deserved it, if only “they” weren’t all fools, incompetents, and thieves demanding a share in what they haven’t earned or deserved.
And here’s O’Rourke, glad to tell them they’re right and to make them laugh in self-congratulation at it.
Democracy, says O’Rourke, is a humbug, and people who buy into his humbugging are meant to shut up their hearts and treat their fellow Americans as other races of creatures bound on other journeys and the government that represents “them” as being like “them,” something “other” to hold in suspicion and contempt.
A very useful attitude for them to have, from the point of view of the corporate elitists who want to run things as they see fit, for their own benefit, and who don’t, under any circumstances, want to share.