Monday, September 30, 2013

"Go ahead, call me a Communist"

The Freshness and Fragrance of the Political Discourse Has Fallen Like a House of Cards

We have to find a new balance, otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.                                                                                                            -Pope Francis
I have perused your late mathematical Prize Question, proposed in lieu of one in Natural Philosophy, for the ensuing year...Permit me then humbly to propose one of that sort for your consideration, and through you, if you approve it, for the serious Enquiry of learned Physicians, Chemists, &c. of this enlightened Age. It is universally well known, that in digesting our common food, there is created or produced in the bowels of human creatures, a great quantity of wind. That the permitting this air to escape and mix with the atmosphere, is usually offensive to the company, from the fetid smell that accompanies it. That all well-bred people therefore, to avoid giving such offence, forcibly restrain the efforts of nature to discharge that wind.                             -Benjamin Franklin

All National Parks in MA closed. Patch File Photos
Well, it seems that the "freshness and fragrance" of this story is ripe for the telling: On a recent trip to Massachusetts, I shocked a firearms expert and period-costumed National Park Service employee at Minute Man National Park by recounting how Benj. Franklin had written a little-known treatise on farting (see epigraph, above). My mother would have been mortified that I related such a tale, but it is a masterful lesson on hot air of the kind that has enveloped our body politic. [Some of you may remember a colorful, if disjointed speech I gave at the NH Democratic Convention a few years ago citing this same article of flatulence. I was adorned in a T-shirt, just after Biden gaffe #986, that said, "Methane is a big fucking deal."]

This week, Deborah and I have started to watch "House of Cards." I am transfixed when Kevin Spacey deftly turns his head, like Magnum PI, and talks directly to me in the dulcet tones one imagines would belong to Machiavelli, had he been from the American South. Spacey's use of apostrophe is delicious; his hard-nosed, single-handed walking of Russo (no Jean-Jacques Rousseau or even Lloyd Bentsen) down the path to redemption makes me shudder. Can't you imagine Billary smoking cigarettes in the upstairs window? And don't you wake up wondering if Zoe Barnes is your greatest nightmare or wettest dream? House of cards, indeed! His bold, if predictably salacious, made-for-Netflix mini-series is probably the most interesting thing happening in politics right now, but, sadly, not the most important. Life imitates art, but still no binge TV show will ever be more important than the utterances of the real Congressmen as they unravel our national trust.



The absurdity of the public discourse has crescendo-ed to a new and tedious plateau.

In an increasingly shrill barrage of emails issuing from Democracy for America (Howard Dean's group), I have been asked to be furious that Bill O'Reilly would call Robert Reich, the old Clinton-era Secretary of the Labor Movement, a "Communist," but then be unwilling to debate him on a widely-watched national TV program called...yup, The O'Reilly Factor. These pleas for support for Mr. Reich are mostly manufactured by Reich himself, which makes me care even less for his plight. I am, unapologetically, not angry about this. I cannot marshal any indignation at these indignities. The epithet itself is empty to me since I live in the mind-boggling epicenter of capitalism (Beijing) touted as "communism with Chinese characteristics" and I really don't remember the Vietnam War. (Some of the miscreants who dictate our national conversation would probably label me a Pinko just for deigning to live in China for a few years or for criticizing my country from abroad. I say, let them eat smelly tofu.)

Photo by Steve Jurvetson
What does make me angry is that semi-respectable demi-men, like Reich, want to appear on that show to talk about serious issues facing our country. For thirty years, the Democrats have talked yearningly about the inimitable infrastructure of the Republicans with their vast network of academic institutes of crooked thinking and their popular, diabolical radio shows. Well, maybe, these gentleman should just walk away from the nonsense and have their own conversation. Have they enough sense and humility not to name their revolution the Fourth Reich?

People who like healthcare, National Parks, and other nice things that our government provides for us will join the new party and desert the prattling pranksters of The Wrong. I am for a new elitism that encourages Dean and his band of merry men to ignore the ignorant. Are these champions of the 99%--mostly from the ivory tower or collared in white--afraid that nobody will listen to them if they do not pander to the loony listeners of Limbaugh and odious oodles of O'Reilly oglers?  The nation would be better off if we sent the climate deniers and the panels of Darwin Award nominees (who are dictating Texas textbook tenets!) to continue their masturbatory exercises in an undisclosed location.

Abraham Alfonse Albert Gallatin (January 29, 1761 –
August 12, 1849) was a Swiss-American ethnologist,
linguist, politician, diplomat, congressman, and the
longest-serving United States Secretary of the Treasury.
Can you imagine Alexander Hamilton or Henry Knox squealing that William Duane, Albert Gallatin, John J. Beckley, Thomas Cooper, and Thomas Jefferson himself would not allow them to say their piece in the Democratic-Republican Party rags and pamphlets of that earlier time? It seems to me that there was a time when--pardon the implicit sexism and ageism in my phraseology--"men were men and boys were boys." There appears, now, to be a moldering sense of manhood in the political class. Mine eyes have seen it firsthand, which is probably why I like Spacey's project as much as I do.

Gone are the days of Benjamin Franklin, who used his withering tongue to great effect, but also schemed ways to bury the hatchet and make a great peace. "He that has once done you a Kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged," counselled the Sage of Philly. Is Reich hoping O'Reilly will lend him a book? What is the end-game even if Reich can make O'Reilly eat his own lunch? Furthermore, we should wonder: does O'Reilly even read rare books?

Set is the sun on a day when Winston Churchill could, with a Cheshire Cat's grin and a puff on his Karshian cigar, rip his opponent to ribbons, yet dawning is an age of endless, unhappy, purposeless drivel out from which nothing comes. The acerbic tongue is not a newcomer to the political mire. For me, one of the most enjoyable books of recent years was "Infamous Scribblers" which indulged readers with all sorts of bombast traded between our nation's founding fathers and the burgeoning Fourth Estate of the nascent nation. Jonathan Swift was not even the first to delightfully skewer with satire while roasting the prigs of his era. Still, most of these people seemed to have had a purpose to their cutting remarks. Now, we are just left with Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert (my second favorite Catholic), and less central Bill Maher, for whom the fodder is an endless menu of Weiners and Spitzers and Edwardsian tails [sic]. While I laugh grimly with the rest of you, where is it getting us?

I left New Hampshire, partly in boredom and partly in frustration with the sort of meaningless nonsense that the Party Chairman there pedals to papers in the Granite State. He has trained a whole generation in his vapid tactics. Mountains are made of molehills. Men with unseemly weddings get national attention as the nipple-dragging charlatan generates his newest flash in the pan. It is masterful and empty. When the conversation should be about taxes, it is about sex. In fact, the only institutions more obsessed with sex than the Catholic Church seem to be the two dominant parties with their incessant focus on the hookers of Bookers, as well as overly broad pronouncements about the complicated and deeply personal issues of abortion and gay marriage.

I was too amused the other day when a friend, who will have to pardon me for recounting this, sent out a backhanded email for her At-Large City Council campaign. It said, and I quote, "Some of my opponents don’t share the same civic-minded principals that C--- resident’s value. If elected, my opponents will seek to radically change C-----, injecting ideology and politics into every corner of municipal government." (I will not focus on the genitive apostrophe appended to a single resident, nor the misspelling of principles, as I did in my glib, pithy back-and-forth with her.) No, look at the message itself! Caesar himself was no more adept at the use of rhetoric. She claims the non-ideological, unpolitical high ground for herself with a message that overtly transforms the municipal race into one charged with the sort of nastiness from which she seeks to distance herself.

I am praying for a change. I just hope nobody calls me the Anti-Christ. That is something up with which I should not put.

Alexander Lee teaches critical thinking, history, spelling, and punctuation in China.