In the wake of recent political developments, there has been a lot of hand-wringing about why Democrats in Congress are so spineless, and have been unable to pass meaningful legislation despite huge majorities. After thinking about my travel plans last night, I think I have the key to the Grand Unified Theory of American politics.
The problem is not that Democratic politicians are uniquely craven, or venal, or anything like that. The problem is Washington, DC.
No, this is not a prelude to some right-wing rant about how the Real America can be found only in states with more livestock than people. The problem is that Democratic politicians have spent far too much time in Washington, DC, and as a result have internalized the city’s characteristic approach to its environment, which is pants-wetting terror.
We’re talking about a city that shuts down its schools when there is snow forecast. Not falling, not piling up on the ground, forecast. If the long-range forecast calls for snow on Friday, the stores sell out of bread, milk, and toilet paper on Tuesday, Wednesday at the latest.
Spend enough time in that environment, and it starts to get to you. I spent six years living in DC when I was a grad student, and by the end of that time, I was starting to fall into the DC mode. A light dusting of snow, the sort of thing I wouldn’t think twice about going out drinking in when I was in the Northeast, started to keep me home. I said it was because I didn’t want to deal with the idiot locals, but that’s just the first step down the slippery slope toward, well, becoming a Democratic congressman.
Democratic politicians are so spineless because they’ve spent so much time living surrounded by people whose reaction to the slightest bit of weather-related adversity is to crawl back into bed and cry for their mommies. Given that environment, you can’t really expect them to stand up for themselves in the face of, well, anything. A strong headwind makes their knees go wobbly– it’s no wonder they cave in the face of Republican parliamentary tactics.
“Ah,” you say, “that might explain Democrats, but how do you explain the Republicans? They’re not turned into craven cowards by living in DC.”
Au contraire, I reply, because I took French in high school. You forget that there are two failure modes for humans gripped by paralyzing fear. Some retreat and cower, while others lash out. They try to compensate for their own crippling inadequacy by bullying those smaller and weaker than themselves.
If you know where to look, you can see clear indicators of this element of Republican psychology. Yeah, they’re great at dominating Democrats and kicking kittens, but look at their response to terror. The mere suggestion that we might possibly consider transferring suspected terrorists from Guantanamo to maximum security prisons on American soil gives them the vapors. From their reaction, you would think that the wimpiest terror suspect being held in Cuba was Galactus, Eater of Worlds, rather than an unsuccessful Afghan poppy farmer sold out by his neighbors.
Clearly, both political parties have been infected by the corrupting influence of Washington DC. It’s not the money, it’s not the power, it’s not the corrupting influence of mephistopholean lobbyists. It’s the weather. Specifically, the negative influence of living in a community that goes into vapor lock when it gets a little cloudy.
“All right, smart guy,” you say. “You’ve got your Unified Theory of Politics that explains the behavior of the political parties. How do we fix this?”
The solution is clear, and obvious. We need to go back to basics, and look to the Founding Fathers for guidance. Specifically, George Washington, our first president, whose capital was… New York City.
Washington had it right. New York is the right place for the capital. It’s not just that it’s the city with the most money and power, it’s the city with the most attitude. New Yorkers are tough, and not cowed by mass murder within the borough of Manhattan, let alone a little bit of weather. People in New York don’t cower in bed when it snows, they shake it off and go on with their day.
That’s the kind of fortitude that is sorely lacking in our modern politicians, of both parties. When New York politicians suffer a setback due to parliamentary maneuver, they don’t cringe away and offer timid compromises. They either lock the other party out of the legislative chambers– literally. If they get locked out, they don’t whine to the press, they steal a key and a spare gavel, and break in.
(Yeah, OK, they’re also wildly corrupt. But who would notice the difference?)
We need more of that backbone. The problems facing us are too serious and too urgent to be dealt with by cowards and bullies. We need legislators who will stand up and fight in the face of adversity, and you just can’t do that in a city that wets its collective pants when the weather gets a little rough.
And that’s why we need to abandon Washington DC, and bring the government back where it belongs: New York City.