Friday, July 29, 2011

The J.R.R. Tolkien Guide to American Politics

American political discourse moved even further from reality this week. The Lord of the Rings now frames debate over the debt ceiling impasse. The Wall Street Journal called the Tea Party House psychos members who have rejected John Boehner's proposed shredding of the social safety net budget as a sellout to the ideas of big government "Hobbits."

Yes. Hobbits. The little guys in The Lord of the Rings. Money graf:

The idea seems to be that if the House GOP refuses to raise the debt ceiling, a default crisis or gradual government shutdown will ensue, and the public will turn en masse against . . . Barack Obama. The Republican House that failed to raise the debt ceiling would somehow escape all blame. Then Democrats would have no choice but to pass a balanced-budget amendment and reform entitlements, and the tea-party Hobbits could return to Middle Earth having defeated Mordor.

In some ways using The Lord of the Rings as a lens through which to examine American politics makes some sense, given the black-and-white way many Americans view issues. For those of you who don't know your Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings is the story of an epic war between good and evil. There was no compromising or negotiating with the Dark Lord Sauron, the chief baddie of LOTR. And the Tea Party crowd certainly sees our Eisenhower Republican Kenyan socialist president as someone they shouldn't meet half way on anything. And like Hobbits, who live in this bucolic paradise called The Shire when destiny calls them into the company of the great and the wise such as the elves of Rivendell and the wizard Gandalf, the Tea Party guys are really in over their heads.

John McCain apparently liked the phrase "Tea Party Hobbits" so much he used it himself to mock House Republicans. But then freshman senator and Tea Party darling Rand Paul shot back that he would "rather be a hobbit than a troll," slyly alluding to the little known fact that John McCain will turn to stone if exposed to direct sunlight.

However, there is one big problem with the LOTR analogy, as originally presented by the Wall Street Journal:

"the tea-party Hobbits could return to Middle Earth having defeated Mordor."

As any pathetic geek Tolkien fan could tell you, Mordor, the land of absolute evil, is actually in Middle Earth. That's the problem. The Dark Lord inhabits the same continent, the same reality, as everyone else. Frankly you can't truthfully say that Washington (represented by Mordor in this analogy) or the Tea Partiers inhabit the same reality as the rest of us.

I think another fantasy analogy for American politics would work much better. Over the past 80 years this country worked out a basic consensus: it's in everyone's best interest to ensure old age doesn't mean poverty and illness, to provide the unemployed with financial help, to make sure poor people get at least some assistance feeding and caring for their kids.

Time and again somebody shows up contesting these notions, which are the underpinning of any society's claim to call itself civilized. Time and again, we think we've beaten them, and they keep coming back.

And those enemies of our modest welfare state seem to be making more progress than they have at any time since Clinton dismantled Aid to Families with Dependent Children in 1996.

Voldemort is in charge of Washington. Where's Harry?

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