Calhoun’s Cannons, The Bay News, Tolosa Press, SLO CA for October 10, 2008
Waltz Me Around Again, Willie
If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.
As far as comedy routines go, it’s as old as the hills. The two city-slickers tie a string around a wallet, place it on the sidewalk, then run the string back behind some bushes where they crouch, waiting for The Sucker to come along. He always does, wearing his shabby country bumpkin overalls, hayseed sticking out of his cow-licked hair. He bends down to grab the wallet, which is promptly pulled away by the string. Hayseed falls, kerploot! on his keister. City Dudes snicker and run away with the wallet.
When it happens in the movies or the funny papers, it’s funny. When it happens to a whole nation, it turns into a slo-mo train wreck feeding on an endless loop – the eternal string, the forever falling bumpkin, the ker-splat, the cries of pain and surprise, over and over again.
But in real life, it’s also dismaying because it keeps happening; our hapless Bumpkin learns nothing, never wises up, never changes the game. He’s always, eternally falling for the oldest con in the book until he changes from a victim into another other stock comic figure: The self-bamboozled, petard-hoisted Fool.
And right now, America is more than filling that role. Throughout our history we keep falling for the same old wallet trick, utterly ignoring the two givens of the “free markets:” Caveat Emptor and The Golden Rule: he who has the most gold, makes the rules. Hayseeds need not apply.
After the Great Depression, a sufficient number of people decided it was time to put into place additional rules that would help guard against the worst excesses of a free market economy. But starting in the 1980’s with the so-called Reagan Revolution, the voters put into office a whole series of bi-partisan Penolopies to sit at the national financial loom and carefully pull out the protective, regulatory warps and woofs so that the tapestry would fall apart . . . again.
Thread by thread they worked, the K-Street Lobbyists, their bought-and-paid-for Congresspeople, all of whom had drunk the Kool-Aid offered by a Reagan/Gingrich/Atwater/Norquist/Rove/Limbaughian/Greenspanian anti-tax, anti-government, anti-Commons Crony Capitalist ideology that Regulation was BAD, government was BAD, and the hayseed public shouldn’t worry because the hand of the Free Market would solve all problems.
The voters bought it again and again, even though cracks in the system were appearing, Jeremiah’s were starting to holler that the foxes were running the chicken coop and Americans needed to pay attention since their best interests were being sold to the highest bidders and they were all busy moving those nice assets to tax-free Dubai.
They didn’t, of course. The wallet and string joke wouldn’t keep working if the hayseeds ever wised up. Instead, like clockwork, the American people took – once again – the slo-mo pratfall while the K-Street kleptocrats scampered off with the silverware.
And while we’ll all be stuck with the bills from this particular train wreck, what’s curious is the blind and bland equanimity of the people who’ve just been fleeced. Instead of pikestaffs and firebrands and the storming of Washington, they still seem unable to connect any dots or understand the implications of past policies and their own behaviors. And if the present polls are correct, they may well put into office a team who spent their careers being staunch proponents of the sort of DEregulation that helped create this mess.
Which, you have to admit, actually is comic; Nobody learns anything. So it’s possible the American people have turned themselves into Shmoos, those Al Capp comic characters whose only purpose for being is to make humans happy by doing and being anything they want, from serving as bounce-back punching bags to making themselves into a tasty meal-- Sheep for the shearing, architects of their own destruction.
It’s a far cry from the tough-minded “I’m From Missouri, Show Me” American of yore. But then that tough old bird likely has been transformed by a consumer society into just another mall rat with overextended credit, a corporate media-mesmerized sucker born every minute, voting into office the same wolves that will consume him in the end, string, wallet, and all.