A chink in the wall through which to speak

“Then, there is another thing: we must have a wall in the great chamber; for Pyramus and Thisby says the story, did talk through the chink of a wall.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Act III, Sc. i), by William Shakespeare

Prowl the halls of government in Washington, DC, and you will find holes in walls, through which many who sought to govern met to speak in the past. They are grown over now, blocked up, filled with tough clay wasp nests, crammed with hard blocks of biscuit crumbs and teabags. Those the wall divides do not seek each other out, for fear of being perceived as lovers on a rendezvous, like Pyramus and Thisby, and appearing as an anathema to their basely, uninformed constituents, who hold that governing is no excuse for reasonable dialogue.

Such unreasonable performance from our elected officials prompted Mike Lofgren, a thirty year GOP Congressional staffer, to leave behind all the hard work he had put into helping our government work. In a scathing indictment of the political environment on Capitol Hill these days, Lofgren wrote the following in a (must-read) piece for Truthout.org:

“…the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King, Michele Bachman (now a leading presidential candidate as well), Paul Broun, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Louie Gohmert, Allen West. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy.

“It was this cast of characters and the pernicious ideas they represent that impelled me to end a nearly 30-year career as a professional staff member on Capitol Hill.”

“A couple of years ago,” Lofgren’s essay later reveals, “a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.” Pretzel logic, to be sure, and one that we can all hope will backfire and teach this new incarnation of the GOP a lesson.

But even though he primarily blames his party for the problems in Washington, Lofgren also has some harsh words for the Democrats, though he refuses to lump them in with the GOP “craziness.”

“I left,” he said, “because I was appalled at the headlong rush of Republicans, like Gadarene swine, to embrace policies that are deeply damaging to this country’s future; and contemptuous of the feckless, craven incompetence of Democrats in their half-hearted attempts to stop them…

“While Democrats temporized, or even dismissed the fears of the white working class as racist or nativist, Republicans went to work. To be sure, the business wing of the Republican Party consists of the most energetic outsourcers, wage cutters and hirers of sub-minimum wage immigrant labor to be found anywhere on the globe. But the faux-populist wing of the party, knowing the mental compartmentalization that occurs in most low-information voters, played on the fears of that same white working class to focus their anger on scapegoats that do no damage to corporations’ bottom lines: instead of raising the minimum wage, let’s build a wall on the Southern border (then hire a defense contractor to incompetently manage it). Instead of predatory bankers, it’s evil Muslims. Or evil gays. Or evil abortionists.”

So the GOP has succeeded, mostly, to get the average voter to despair the dysfunctionality of a government that gets nothing done.

To counter this congealing stone of cynicism, though, there may be  a lesson from the newly opened Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial near the National Mall. If you haven’t seen or read about it, the sculpture is a representation of a phrase from MLK’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered a few hundred yards away, at the Lincoln Memorial, in August, 1963:

“Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope”

To illustrate that, the site shows a big mountain of stone, with a wide pathway cut through it. Rev. King himself is depicted on the “missing piece” of the mountain, thrust forward toward the DC Tidal Basin. In the words of the official website for the memorial:

“The boulder is the Mountain of Despair, through which every visitor will enter, moving through the struggle as Dr. King did during his life, and then be released into the open freedom of the plaza. The solitary stone is the Stone of Hope, from which Dr. King’s image emerges, gazing over the Tidal Basin toward the horizon, seeing a future society of justice and equality for which he encouraged all citizens to strive.”

The dedication ceremonies for the memorial were postponed last week, when Hurricane Irene roared up the east coast. Maybe, though, there is some serendipity in that unfortunate delay. Perhaps, when Congress comes back to town this week, they can all witness what an opening in the wall looks like, and actually find a chink through which they can speak, free of the “despair” in government that their stubbornness has wrought.

President Obama is pushing forward, because like Rev. King, he is not afraid. Despite the efforts of the Tea Party Caucus to fit him with the head of an ass, like Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he knows that he is in the right:

“I see their knavery: this is to make an ass of me;
to fright me, if they could. But I will not stir
from this place, do what they can: I will walk up
and down here, and I will sing, that they shall hear
I am not afraid.”

Be fearless and full of hope, America. Work for reasoned governance to prevail. It the patriotic duty of every thinking American to break through the wall, even tear it down, and emerge as “the stone of hope.” When you go to visit the MLK memorial, remember that our America, a country of, by and for the people, stands on his shoulders, as he gazes out toward the memorial for the man who penned those words, Thomas Jefferson.


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