Thursday, February 23, 2012

Dignity On The Cheap-Rick Reaches For The Big Nightstick

Dignity On The Cheap-Rick Reaches For The Big Nightstick

Several years ago, I had the misfortune of having a run-in with a New York City Traffic cop. It may have scarred me for life.  It certainly closed my mind to the unique allure of Rick Santorum.

Let me start with a confession.  The registration on my car was expiring, and I made the mistake of renewing on line.  I got an online confirmation, but the renewal sticker hadn’t arrived (by snail mail) prior to the expiration date.  Being foolish, and needing to drive the car, I printed out the email from the Department of Motor Vehicles, which clearly and unambiguously stated the registration’s new expiration date, and taped it into the windshield.  I parked the car on the street sometime after 11PM, and went to bed.

The following morning, we went out to the car to find $69 worth of disgusting orange and black paper defiling my car.  At approximately 3:00 AM some courageous public servant with a flashlight was going up and down city streets looking for murderers and people with expired registrations.  He or she found my humble Honda.

I’d like to say the story ended there, and I wrote the check, vowed to know better next time, and went on with the day.  But fate would take one more unhappy turn.  For whatever reason, after pulling out (and watching a transporter beam immediately place a car in the spot we vacated) we realized we had left something in the apartment, so we parked the car at a meter, pumped in coins, and made a short pit-stop.

In the twenty minutes that elapsed a second angel in blue fouled my windshield with her putrescence.  I saw the ticket, I saw the traffic cop, and ran over to show her the renewal pasted into the windshield. Right above the regular registration!!!  Look, please?  She was unmoved.  I begged.  She refused to look.  I felt a shot of adrenaline flow through my body the likes of which I hadn’t experienced since watching the opening scene of “Jurassic Park”, where the nice raptor pulls the gamekeeper into the cage for an evening snack.   I think I might have actually drooled with anger, and probably teetered very close to incarceration (in front of my children) until my wife literally pulled me back. Let’s not forget who has the big nightstick.

I had buried that incident until I read yesterday’s Times, and Thomas Friedman’s excellent piece about the ongoing tragedy in Egypt.  At the urging of Egypt’s “minister of planning and international cooperation”, Mubarak crony Fayza Abul Naga, 43 people, including 16 Americans, will be tried on the absurd charge of bringing money into the country to promote democracy.  So much for Arab Spring and the aspirations of a new generation.  Abul Naga, “demonstrates the tendency to look for dignity in all the wrong places — to look for dignity not by building up the capacity of Egypt’s talented young people so they can thrive in the 21st century — with better schools, better institutions, export industries and more accountable government. No, it is the tendency to go for dignity on the cheap by standing up to the foreigners.”

The more I watch this campaign, with the increasing level of sheer noise, the ever-escalating and sometimes bizarre accusations, the more I’m reminded of both the traffic cop, and Abul Naga.  There is no vision for the future, just a standing up to the foreigners.

Rick Santorum is now immersing himself in this “dignity on the cheap.”  Seemingly lacking in ideas beyond creating a contemporary theocracy, he drives his poll numbers and the enthusiasm of his followers with an antediluvian game of “which one of these is not like the others?” At every stop, he reminds his listeners that Obama is not like them, that Obama doesn’t share their values, that his faith is not theirs, of “having a phony theology”.  Santorum’s spokesperson says Obama pursues “radical Islamist policies”.  A couple of days ago, Santorum said Obama had a hidden eugenics program.  I could go on (in fact, I could go on almost indefinitely) but Santorum has gone beyond the ritual “Obama is a lousy President” to something far darker and conspiratorial.  Obama isn’t just wrong. Obama is The Other.

Does Santorum really believe that?  It looks like he does.  But what does Santorum really want?  I asked a very conservative friend who prays for a one-term Obama Presidency.  He said he wouldn’t vote for Santorum.  To his way of thinking, Santorum was a small-minded small-time politician, and as much a statist as Obama.  My friend wanted less government and fewer rules. Santorum didn’t want less, he just wanted to be in charge so he could make the rules.

I found that very striking.  I thought of the traffic cop who took joy in using her crabbed empire to cause unwarranted pain, and the former postman turned martinet drill instructor Corporal Himmelstoss in “All Quiet On The Western Front.”   In a rare moment of rest, the soldiers he abused talk about him and conclude, “It's not only Himmelstoss, there are lots of them. As sure as they get a stripe or a star they become different men, just as though they'd swallowed concrete.”

Swallowed concrete, dignity on the cheap?  Do we need a Himmelstoss? Does Rick get the big nightstick?