Went and got their guns

>> Thursday, October 03, 2013

Just because the Republicans know what they're doing, it doesn't mean they didn't miscalculate.  I think this is one of the things that people probably ought to bear in mind with the rest of it.

Here's the thing: the teabagging Republicans who are driving the House's obstructionist efforts don't just come from Congressional districts where they're not facing any meaningful opposition; one consequence of gerrymandering a House district so that it becomes chock-full of only one kind of voter is that when you go home or when your staff opens the mail, these are the only people you're hearing from.  And it's fairly likely that these folks are also getting their national news from fairly (shall we say) blinkered sources like Fox, harboring a deep mistrust of more objective news sources like the New York Times or even the center-right Wall Street Journal; you only have to see how some of them talk about the media to get a sense of how removed they are from the national dialogue.  Not that the national dialogue, to be fair, isn't confused.  But it's easy to see, anyway, how someone who only hears from like-minded folks back at home and who harbors a mistrust of the "liberal" news media could conclude (however fallaciously) that the "ordinary" Americans at home represent the man-in-the-street view while contrary reports from the national media ought to be disregarded as leftist propaganda.  There are a lot of fallacies there, starting simply with the selective bias that comes with listening to the kinds of constituents who (a) make up the majority of your regional neighborhood and (b) will bother to write you about something chaffing their nethers, but that's a GIGO problem, not "childishness".

I guess what I'm getting at there is that there's nothing "childish" or "infantile" or whatever other pejorative you prefer about thinking you represent some kind of silent majority and crusading away for it.  It may make you a fool in the quixotic sense, and your foolishness may be predicated on ignorance, and your ignorance may be predicated on a willful stubbornness with regard to accepting facts--all of which may in fact make you fairly contemptible.  (It's one thing to be a fool who knows no better, and another thing entirely to be a fool who chooses to know no better.)

And there's another thing, too, that I expect factors into the House teabagger thought process on this, or really a related pair of things, both concerning their opponents, that has led to a miscalculation.

The first is that if they're thinking that the Affordable Care Act is really, really unpopular, then they're likely thinking that at least a few of their opponents ought to be looking for a way out of it.  Of course, it's hard to tell whether the ACA is really unpopular or not, as the polling data suggests everybody is actually really confused and if you phrase a question to ask, f'r'instance, how someone feels about "Obamacare" or even "The Affordable Care Act", they hate it, but when you ask someone how they feel about kids getting to stay on a parent's insurance until they're in their twenties and other provisions, they're mostly for it, unless it's the individual mandate, which they're against, except when you ask questions about that, people are confused about it, so....  The point being that you can imagine the teabagging crowd being a bit confused that the Democrats are standing together on this one, since if the ACA was as awful and hated as the teabaggers think it is, they ought to be able to coax some defectors over, unless the Democrats really are so evil and partisan they'd cut their own constituents noses just to spite Ted Cruz's face.

And the other thing that has to be confusing them is that they have to be thinking that the President and Democrats are spineless and can be knocked over in a brisk breeze like a poorly-planted lawn umbrella.  The idea that the Democrats are weak and waffly isn't just something they all believe over at Fox News, it's something the Democrats own allies and supporters have been known to accuse them of.  (Yes, yes--I'm one of the guilty ones who has accused the President of bending over and surrendering and negotiating from pre-compromised positions.  Guilty, guilty, guilty as charged.)  And I think it's only fair (I'm about to do it again, albeit lazily and vaguely) to say the Democrats have offered the Republicans evidence that they're weak and waffly and spineless.  (By the way, "waffly" is now a word.  Really.  I've just used it three times, so it must be.)

And this is where I think the House Republicans have made their greatest miscalculation.  You don't have to agree that the Democrats are, in fact, waffly (four), but just take it for the sake of the momentary argument that they are: even if they are, this is the Affordable Care Act; that is, it's the big fucking deal.

It's a bit odd that you'd have to explain this to someone from Texas, like Senator Ted Cruz, or any of the House Republicans from out thataway: but there's a trope in Westerns, where you have the seemingly spineless protagonist who puts up with all sorts of crap for an entire movie, up until the last reel, when the villains finally pick the wrong thing to pick on--the hero's woman, his homestead, his town, whatever it is that's the one thing he can't just suck-it-up over--and then he straps on his guns and it turns out he was a "Real Man" the entire time, that he didn't care too much about his dignity up to a point, but there was always that one thing he wasn't going to fold up on and now the baddies went too far (and sometimes they've even been warned).

(It's a trope that the 1992 movie Unforgiven brilliantly and subtly turns on its head: Clint Eastwood's Will Munny is a guy whose manhood is expressed in keeping his demons in check and letting himself get knocked around, and it's when he finally, ultimately, irrevocably degrades himself by picking up a bottle and letting his monsters out--simultaneously proving that his unseen mother-in-law was both completely right and completely wrong about him--that he becomes the Man Of Violence who "corrects the balance".  A balance that he helped knock askew in the first place, playing a role in the tragedy of horrors that makes the vicious crime that set the plot of the movie into motion somehow even worse.  And rather than being the stoic hero who put up with oh-so-much and then strapped on his guns and demonstrated his never-to-be-questioned-again masculinity, the Will Munny who emerges when alcohol unlocks the chains he's been bound in for so many years is a taciturn, blind drunk, paranoid psychopath.  It really is brilliantly done.  And, I suspect from some comments I've heard over the years, a little misunderstood: the tragic hero of Unforgiven is the guy who gets his ass handed to him by Gene Hackman, not the guy who comes back to town and in a cold fury murders everyone he has a bullet for--(part of) the brilliance of Unforgiven is that Clint Eastwood is the good guy and the villain.  But I digress.)

The Affordable Care Act is the everything of the Obama Presidency: not just the legacy, but the thing that the President staked his reelection on, the thing that he and party leaders in the House and Senate staked the future of their party on.  You could get rid of every other thing the President's done and the ACA would still be that Ultimate Accomplishment; and, conversely, you could get rid of the ACA and leave every other bill the President's signed in place, and he'd have nothing.  Without the ACA, the President's legacy is that his dad happened to be a black guy, which is something, but it's not enough: it's a social and historical accomplishment on the part of an electorate that refused to universally recognized interracial marriages when the President was born, and that used to blow up children and churches when people wanted to vote or sit down to eat, but it isn't a personal accomplishment, a signature bill passed with much personal effort to build a willing coalition.  It's a lot like what the Civil Rights Act Of 1964 was for Lyndon Johnson: the thing the President and his party chose to define themselves now and for history, knowing full well it could cost him and his party their future.

Take it away, they have nothing to show for themselves.

Which is why anybody who's seen a Western might expect the Democrats to cowboy up.  Because even if you accept the premise that the Democrats are spineless and fuck-ups (and you don't have to--just take it for the purposes of this argument if you don't), this is their Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda moment.  (Or their Clint Eastwood-in-Unforgiven moment, if you like to imagine the President as a squinty-eyed drunk staggering into a saloon to shoot everybody in sight.)  Of course this is the moment they're going to strap on their guns and you're going to find out they aren't the big wusses the moustache-twirling laughing banditos assumed they were before the wife was ravaged, the dog shot, the cattle ranch burned to the ground, etc., etc.; surely they've seen this movie before.  I sure as Hell have.

Basically, that's the second part of the grand miscalculation here.  It isn't childish or petulant.  They're just ignorant, for one thing, and they're making the same misjudgement of character and circumstances the bewhiskered heavies in a B-Western do, for a second thing.  Which I guess counts as a form of dumb, since we've seen that movie, too, and know how that one usually ends.  (Not the way this one will end, actually: the banditos always get gut shot and die trying to keep their innards from becoming outtards with their hands.  They don't get massive campaign contributions from the Koch Brothers, reelected in a landslide, or run for President someday.)

At least I think it's a miscalculation.  It's not over yet.  Gods only know: it could end up being the first time Jimmy Stewart takes a bullet in the face.  But I doubt it--the Democrats have nothing if they give in, and it's pretty clear they know it, even if their opponents don't know they know it.


Anonymous,  Thursday, October 3, 2013 at 3:06:00 PM EDT  

When I watched Unforgiven again a few years ago, I was shocked to realize that actually Gene Hackman struck me as the hero of the movie. He does horrible, violent things, but he does them to protect the integrity of a fragile community teetering on the edge of civilization.

It's possible I've just gotten fascist in my old age, but I really found him quite sympathetic.

Eric Thursday, October 3, 2013 at 4:46:00 PM EDT  

No, it's not just you: Hackman is the (anti)hero of Unforgiven. He's an awful, horrible, violent guy; but he's a guy who's trying to preserve the peace and stability of, as you say, "a fragile community teetering on the edge of civilization." (And all he wants to do is build himself a nice house, despite being the worst carpenter on Earth.)

And Eastwood, as sympathetic/pathetic as he is, is the intruder who comes into town to wreak chaos and vengeance. (On a matter which, tragically, could have been settled peacefully if people could be reasonable: one of the saddest scenes in the movie is when the cowboy tries to give his partner's victim a horse, which wouldn't make her whole but would make her content (which is sometimes enough), and everybody else sticks their nose in it and keeps the situation straight on course to Hell.)

It's a movie I actually have a hard time watching again, because it's just so damn sad all around. Basically, I just about lose it every time the final crawl shows up on the screen to tell us about Munny's mother-in-law looking for her daughter at the now-abandoned homestead. Coming at the end of Munny's long, spiraling failure to be the man his late wife thought he was, it's almost too much; Unforgiven joins the list of movies so good I may never watch them again. (Even owning it on DVD.)

You can make the case, anyway, that the movie's protagonist is a quasi-sociopathic, crypto-fascist sheriff, and the antagonist is a heroically-failing alcoholic who turns into a monster against his will (but not wholly against his desire--he's so obviously tempted by his past and by the bottle throughout the movie). As lauded as Unforgiven is, it may actually be underrated. Just beautifully brilliant.

Anne C. Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 2:17:00 PM EDT  

I think that most people who have seen Unforgiven pretty much agree that it's a perfect movie. It would be interesting to look at Top 10 or Top 100 lists for it.

And I totally agree on your take on the Republicans. The old saying about "seeing what you want to see" is written all over this.

And I wouldn't be surprised if a majority of Teabaggers (not Republicans in general) did believe "the Democrats really are so evil and partisan they'd cut their own constituents noses just to spite Ted Cruz's face." There are factions in the democrats who believe that about the Republicans.

Great piece.

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