Tramecksans in Congress, and the hobbling prince


“…for about seventy moons past there have been two struggling parties in this empire, under the names of Tramecksan  and Slamecksan, from the high and low heels of their shoes, by which they distinguish themselves…  The animosities between these two parties run so high, that they will neither eat, nor drink, nor talk with each other.” – Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift

The diversion of ignorant voters

A Lilliputian Government

Our republic corrodes when compromise erodes.

It is, perhaps, a bizarre analogy, that of a fantastic tale of six-inch men and the sixty or so small minds of the Tea Party Caucus in Congress, specifically, in the House of Representatives. But they believe, as Swift’s Tramacksans do, “that the high heels are most agreeable to our ancient constitution.” So, when the well-heeled shoe fits, the party in charge has to wear it.

President Obama, who is undoubtedly more sympathetic to the low-heeled Slamecksans, has been accused by both sides of a failure to lead. By that shortcoming, he behaves less like the Lilliputian emperor, whose “heels are lower at least by a drurr than any of his [low-heeled] court,” and still too much like the candidate, the “the heir to the crown,” who has “some tendency towards the high heels; at least we can plainly discover that one of his heels is higher than the other, which gives him a hobble in his gait.” That makes no one happy, even his supporters, who are complaining that he is not stepping fully into the role to which he was elected. It’s hard to hobble up that step with mis-matched shoes.

The allegory of partisanship in Gulliver is as true in the United States today as it was in Swift’s Europe.

The GOP refusal to consider raising taxes is just  “partisan nonsense,” as Bloomberg’s editorial board put it. So partisan, in fact, that not a single candidate seeking the GOP nomination at a debate in Ames, Iowa, last week, would even agree to a ratio of ten-to-one of spending cuts to tax increases, a position that Bloomberg goes on to say “may not even be good politics,” because it goes against the feelings of most Americans.

“We have found, and every other poll has found, the American public saying, ‘Compromise, compromise, compromise,'” Andy Kohut, of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, told NPR last Wednesday.

It doesn’t matter to the high-on-the-heel Tramecksan – I mean, GOP – leadership that the downgrade from Standard & Poor’s was a direct result of their refusal to give ground on the debt deal, by not even considering revenue. “[T]here will be pressure to compromise on tax increases,” Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), the House Majority Leader, wrote in a memo to his colleagues following S&P’s action. “We will be told that there is no other way forward. I respectfully disagree.”

If the new Super Committee that is charged with implementing the second phase of the debt deal doesn’t compromise, though, it will be trouble for everybody. It’s actually un-American, as filmmaker Rick Beyer warned in a brief opinion piece for Politico, last week:

“A few days ago in Iowa, a voter told Mitt Romney ‘I hate compromise.’ Then he added: ‘There’s nothing in the middle of the road except yellow stripes and road kill.’  No sentiment could be more un-American. The Constitution upon which our republic has relied for more than 200 years represents a principled compromise made by 55 headstrong, opinionated delegates who violently disagreed with each other on many issues.

“Let them be your guide. If they came together for America, you can too.”

Gulliver’s Travels was a harbinger of the political discontent and consequent upheaval that overtook Europe and the Americas in the eighteenth century. The theme was co-opted by many writers in those days, who applied Swift’s critical analysis of government discourse  to the ships of many states that charted their own course to dysfunction.

That critical analysis, alas, is missing these days. Fingers from above reach down into any community where a vote can be counted and a voice booms, as if from Olympia, “You are one of us, so I am one of you. Join me.” And away we fly, beyond thought or reason, because of the promise of opportunity, of exclusivity, of privilege. There is no critical thinking going on, because we are a people transfixed by an onslaught of mesmerizing media, designed to make us less Gulliver, and more gullible.

To paraphrase Swift, some politicians less consult truth, than their own vanity, or interest, or the diversion of ignorant voters.

– PBG

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