August 4, 2011
Politics is supposed to be the art of compromise, but the end result of the debt-ceiling debacle was the most artless compromise in memory. Actually, it wasn't compromise at all, it was capitulation. Imagine: Both houses of Congress, and the President of what used to be called the Greatest Nation in the World, held hostage by a handful of Republicans, most of them just halfway into their first term.
It's like freshman hazing in reverse, forcing the upperclassmen to scrub the Floor of the House on their knees while chanting "Freshmen rule! Freshmen rule!" It's like taking away the football from the varsity team and making them play Kick the Can.
We haven't seen a tea party this mad since Alice discovered Wonderland. Indeed, you wish Lewis Carroll were around to make sense of it. Nobody else can.
All his zany characters, and then some, are in the House of the March Hare, with its chimneys shaping into ears and its dome being thatched with fur. You've got the Tea Partiers gaggled at one corner of the otherwise empty table, crying to Alice the Minority Leader, "No room! No room!" You've got Eric "Mad Hatter" Cantor, spouting riddles no one can solve. ("Why is taxation not a deficit-reducer?" is even more inscrutable than "Why is a raven like a writing-desk?")
You've got John Boehner, the beleaguered and weepy Hare of the House, dipping the Hatter's stopped watch into his tea.
And you've got Barack the neutered Dormouse, asleep on the table, where Hare and Hatter, as Carroll wrote, "were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head. ‘Very uncomfortable for the Dormouse,' thought Alice, ‘only, as it's asleep, I suppose it doesn't mind.'" You also suppose the Dormouse didn't mind when they tried stuffing him head-first into the teapot.
In our narrative, other Wonderland characters turn up, like Queen of Hearts Michelle Bachmann ("Off with their heads!") and that Cheshire Cat, Ronald Reagan, whose smile still lingers long after the rest of him is gone.
"It's the stupidest tea-party I ever was at in all my life!" said Alice as she fled the scene in disgust and began nibbling on the mushroom that would make her just a foot tall. "Now, I'll manage better this time."
Let's hope so, for what adventures still await! Despite her diminished stature (Who'd have thought it before she fell down that rabbit-hole in 2008?), the ceiling cramps her head. All is small now and getting smaller, except for the Big, who keep getting bigger.
Washington has become a world more topsy-turvy than even Lewis Carroll could conceive. Instead of constructing an economic policy, Congress deconstructs it. Instead of setting comprehensive goals for the betterment and prosperity of the country and then rationally determining how to pay for them, the Congress, pulling the President along by the nose, goes nuts over spending cuts, regardless of the merit of the program. The Big Picture has shrunk to the head of a pin. And like the Mad Hatter's watch, there is no future: "It's always six o'clock now," he tells Alice; "It's always tea-time, and we've no time to wash the things between whiles."
It's self-absorption dissolving into pettiness. The so-called "debates" endlessly swirling around the debt-ceiling issue were goofier than the conversation at the Hatter's party.
And all the while, the economy sputters, the poor and sick are pushed from the table while the fat lick up the butter. "The common good" are words as meaningless as a stanza from "Jabberwocky."
Oh, my fur and whiskers!