Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Beltway Syndrome

Story time, kids -- pretty sure I have not told this one before, if I have it was years ago. After sixteen years, the Blogheimers is kicking in with some regularity.

So back in the mid-'70s, when I moved from smoggy Los Angeles to the epic glories of the Great State of Jefferson, we lived for about two years out in a rural district, probably ten miles removed from what was then a town of about 3,500 to begin with. I was in second grade, rode the bus, which given the distance it had to cover took about thirty to forty minutes to get to the school. Fun times.

Even at that age, I was a voracious reader, and would walk to the library on the next block over from the school to grab three or four books for most weekends. I liked the Hardy Boys "mysteries" in particular; as cheesy and twee as they might be in retrospect, they probably provided an early synaptic pathway for my adult love of most crime fiction.

Mind you, I'm not saying that the Hardy Boys are a gateway drug to Dennis Lehane and James Lee Burke, but if you start reading that genre (even peripherally) at seven years of age, you might hard-wire yourself to later, more adult iterations.

Anyway. So one fine morning we're on the school bus headed into town. Most of the kids got along fairly well, but one kid, a former friend from up the road who was a year older, and had several meaner older brothers (one of whom later did nine years for rape, and was ultimately murdered by his own adult daughter in retribution -- take a wild guess for what) who enjoyed egging him on, decided to give me a hard time. You know, for being a reader. As Homer Simpson so poetically put it, Egghead likes his booky-wook!

So first a couple of taunts and head-slaps, then shoving my books onto the floor. Even at the ripe old age of seven, I could sense a couple of important things quite clearly:

  • This was going to escalate, one way or another.
  • I can get out in front of this, or I can curl up and wait it out.
  • If I choose option #2, this is going to be a daily occurrence. Plus, since I go to the same school as this asshole, and he's only a year older than me, this might go on for a while.

As the bus, piloted by a crotchety tart lovingly nicknamed "Myrtle the Turtle," trundled its way past the rural district cemetery, I picked up the top book from the pile on the floor, and swung it directly into the other kid's face. Didn't break anything, fortunately, but there was blood suddenly. I dropped the book and started swinging wildly, the way a kid who's never thrown a punch yet will do, connecting maybe one in five but getting a message through -- don't fuck with me, I will fight back.

After what seemed like an hour but was only a few seconds -- we were, after all, still moseying past the maybe two-acre cemetery -- I had enough awareness to consider the possibility that fighting on the bus might Get Me In Big Trouble. I stopped for a moment and glanced up the seemingly endless center aisle of the school bus, toward that large rectangular mirror where you could see what or whom the bus driver was looking at. Myrtle looked directly at me, and beneath that grim squint I could see the barest trace of a tight-lipped smile. All bus drivers know who the troublemakers are on their routes.

So I did not Get In Trouble; as I departed the bus, Myrtle looked over at me and said, "Don't do that anymore," with that same tight-lipped smirk. "Okay," I peeped meekly, just relieved that whatever that Trouble was, it wouldn't find me that day anyway.

Better yet, those other kids left me alone after that. We didn't magically become all friends, but they at least understood that, for their purposes of cheap amusement, I was more trouble than I was worth. And for the entire next year, until we moved across town, there wasn't any guff from anyone.

By now, you see my broader point. It's a staple of every cheesy prison movie, from The Shawshank Redemption on down -- you don't have to be a brutal predator, but if you show yourself as a victim, there will always be a line of takers to treat you like one.

I'd like to think Joe Biden has seen, far more intimately than any of us can imagine, how the empty tropes of collegiality and courtesy and comity work out in reality, when the other side is actively invested in engineering your failure, and makes it clear that they couldn't care less about how it all affects non-elite citizens. I'd like to think he understands that he doesn't have to take suggestions from professional cynics, that if he wants to purge bad-faith weasels and little Eichmanns out of his offices, that is his prerogative, and it is entirely in his own rational self-interest.

If Biden hopes to get anything done, he needs to start with wiping the functionary scum, the bureaucratic enzymes that processed the previous maladminstration's endless fecal waste, out of the body. And he doesn't owe anyone any apologies for it; in fact, he -- and the rest of the octogenarians running his party -- need to step up and take credit for as much as they can, shout it from the rooftops.

The "performative" aspect of politics has been gone into at great length here and elsewhere, increasingly so over the past half-decade. It sucks that it matters, but it matters. Just like in that little-kid "fight" on the school bus nearly a half-century(!) ago, it was less important that I "won" the fight, than that I showed all those kids that I was willing to fight, that they weren't just going to roll me.

Biden doesn't need to ask anyone's fucking permission -- not Moscow Mitch, and certainly not some Beltway scriveners who are directly dependent on their access and their surface-of-the-sun hot-takes, suffused as they are with the hoariest of conventional wisdoms. Only Democrats need to seek the permission of the opposition party. Only Democrats need to seek "unity" with the hopelessly angry, hopelessly incoherent bloc that comprises the base of the opposition party. Only Democrats are expected to "moderate" with purposefully immoderate people. Every fucking time.

They need to operate as if their backs are against a great big immovable wall, because they are. They need to remember back to 2006, when they took a midterm win and literally managed to save Social Security from privatization. They fought like they understood that it was real life-or-death shit, that the usual gutless incrementalism wouldn't cut it anymore. That was engineered by none other than Nancy Pelosi, which proves she can do it.

But they have to stop fretting and prattling about how they're going to "explain" their moves to some hostile low-info dipshit out in East Overshoe, Arkansas. Those motherfuckers will never vote for you, even if you came to their doorsteps with duffel bags full of cash. Bokay? They just won't.

When the Democrats stop worrying about "explaining" and "framing" shit, and putting real energy and effort into motivating people, it's an ironclad guarantee that they'll be surprised at the results. Say what you will about the conspiracy-addled doofuses on the right, but they are motivated, passionate, and they show up. I mean, they're motivated and passionate about all the wrong things, but what would a motivated and passionate counterpart to them on the left look like, people motivated about things that would actually benefit them and their communities and regions, the country and planet as a whole?

What might that look like? Since we are not permitted to vote for any parties other than the two (or two wings of the same one) duly anointed by the holy dollars of Corporate America and its mediaopoly octopus, we'll never know.

But in the end, this will be the one true barometer you can use to determine whether the Biden administration has a chance at "success," however you want to define it, and whether the next decade in the US can start undoing the ravages of the first two decades of this wondrous new millennium, or if we have more 'n' better decline of empire in the years to come.

It all starts with whether Biden and his team understand that this is their one and only chance to fight, that when the zombie apocalypse comes, capitulation is really not an option -- you can only strive to find slightly safer ground, and take as many of them down as you can in the process. They are not going to negotiate with you on anything.

So whom and what do they intend to fight for? We're about to find out, and the answer will either raise or doom their party, whether they understand that or not. But they need to decide, or Moscow Mitch and his merry brand of treasonous bandidos will be happy to make that decision for them.

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