Monday, September 20, 2010

Striking a Blow against Pettiness?

It would be a pleasant irony if Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity," scheduled for October 30 in Washington, turned out to be irrelevant, because the country had already awakened to that need to "restore sanity" before the gathering took place. As a matter of fact, it would be a double irony, turning against Reuters for dismissing the event as an "apparent spoof" by affirming the legitimacy of its goal. Then, just because good things come in threes, there would also be the irony that this recognition of the need for sanity should be a product of the weekend recklessness of the latest darling of the Tea Party, Christine O’Donnell. Perhaps the greatest endorsement that sanity can receive is a vivid demonstration of the alternative, and last night's Financial Times report from Washington by Tom Braithwaite provided a vivid analysis of both O'Donnell's recklessness and its consequences.

What adds to the O'Donnell irony is the extent to which she has achieved the very thing that Barack Obama has been trying to do since he took the Oath of Office, establishing an agreement between Democrats and Republicans based on shared centrist perspectives. Thus we had Colin Powell, the closest thing to a paragon of "Executive sanity" during the faith-based madness of the Bush Administration, telling Meet the Press that he would not rule out endorsing Obama for a second term. Then we had Michael Barbaro's report in yesterday's New York Times, which opened with the following paragraphs:

In an election year when anger and mistrust have upended races across the country, toppling moderates and elevating white-hot partisans, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is trying to pull politics back to the middle, injecting himself into marquee contests and helping candidates fend off the Tea Party.

New York’s billionaire mayor, whose flurry of activity is stirring a new round of speculation about his presidential ambitions, is supporting Republicans, Democrats and independents who he says are not bound by rigid ideology and are capable of compromise, qualities he says he fears have become alarmingly rare in American politics.

Ultimately, however, everything comes down to what I have taken to be Stewart's position as a satirist, which is that "anything that disrupts government from doing the people's business should be open to attack." The Tea Party basically held a magnifying glass to tactics that can be traced back to Newt Gingrich, that flourished under Karl Rove, and have been staunchly maintained by Republican ideologues in both Houses of Congress. The common theme of those tactics is one of disruption through the distractions of pettiness. Put another way, if you can get enough people to work up enough sweat about the small stuff, you can get them to forget about the really big stuff and turn that amnesia to your political (and personal) gain.

Curiously, that same section from Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, "On the Pitying," which I cited yesterday for taking on the evils of economic aid, also attacks the underlying nature of pettiness:

Worst of all, however, are petty thoughts. Verily, even evil deeds are better than petty thoughts.

An evil deed is like a boil: it itches and irritates and breaks open—it speaks honestly. "Behold, I am disease"—thus speaks the evil deed; that is its honesty.

But a petty thought is like a fungus: it creeps and stoops and does not want to be anywhere—until the whole body is rotten and withered with little fungi.

When it comes to the current crippling stagnation of the workings of our government and the agents responsible for that stagnation, who could ask for a better metaphor than a skin fungus (particularly during football season)?

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