Graves Registry: Reaping the harvest of the Epic Pout


A car races along a treacherous mountain road, passing anything in front of it with no regard to oncoming vehicles. The wheels veer dangerously onto the dirt shoulder and the driver frantically tries to keep control. Finally, it reaches the turn it cannot navigate and goes shooting out into the air, sailing a hundred feet above the rocky terrain that drops away below. The impact with the boulders is deafening, instantly reducing the Ford sedan to a pile of junk.

Four of the vehicles that the Ford sped by stop above the crash site. Looking down in horror at the scene below, the men decide to go down the steep embankment and see if they can help. The driver, who was thrown clear of the wreck, now lies mortally injured, with every bone broken, on a bed of jagged rocks.

The men hurry over to him and one of them asks, "Gee mister, do you think you're hurt bad?"

The poor man's eyes flutter open. He looks up at the others and asks, "Is he kiddin'?"

Now, let's substitute our country for the accident victim. Battered and broken, our collective eyes open for a moment to behold a puffy face with yellow hair grinning down at us and telling us that he's the answer to all our problems. He doesn't really have any specifics. We just have to trust him.

Our response should be exactly the same, "Is he kiddin'?"

Movie enthusiasts may recall the incident described above as the opening scene in Stanley Kramer's gargantuan 1963 comedy, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." I referred to another Kramer movie, "Judgment at Nuremberg," about the Nazi war crimes trials in my last column. It is surprising -- and a little scary -- how applicable these two disparate films, made over half a century ago, are to what is happening in America today.

The theme that Kramer so skillfully exploits in "Mad World" is greed. The dying man, as it turns out, is none other than Smiler Grogan, a notorious bank robber. Smiler tells his would-be rescuers that he has stashed $350,000 "under a big W" in a park in Santa Rosita, setting off a chaotic frenzy to get to the loot that ultimately lands all of the Good Samaritans in the slammer.

Of course, the idea that greed on a massive scale is going to get you a stint in jail is a little far-fetched these days. Look at the denizens of Wall Street, who took the country far beyond the mere shoulders of the road and all the way to that hairpin turn where only the beneficence of the American taxpayer averted a full-throttle crash into the pit of another Great Depression. No jail time for Jaimie Dimon, however. He just got a 35 percent raise from JPMorgan Chase.

As the Bush II administration limped to its predictably disastrous conclusion, the Republican Party was just as aghast as the rest of the country at the shambles. But when a young, idealistic, black guy won the presidency over their blustery, fiercely ambitious, rich (he wasn't sure how many houses he owned) war hero, the GOP embarked upon their Epic Pout.

It was enunciated clearly at the outset of the Obama administration by Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell, to whom the last adjective I applied to the new president must have been especially grating. The GOP, McConnell brazenly stated, intended to effectively stymie any initiative Obama might propose to help a nation on virtual life support after eight withering years of inept Republican leadership. In what was probably the most grievous miscalculation of his two terms as president, Obama continued to believe that people like McConnell were capable of putting aside petty partisan politics for the good of the nation.

An integral aspect of the Epic Pout was the determination to never move beyond paying lip service to the devastation caused to millions of American families by the titans of finance. Any attempt to substantively divert a recurrence by Mr. Obama was meant with a familiar Republican litany – it was an intrusion by big government into private enterprise. (In other words, it is much more difficult to get away with things if someone is watching you.)

McConnell made his statement long before President Obama had actually proposed any legislation, which makes the GOP's commitment to rabid partisanship even more obvious. Have they learned anything now that the chronic stonewalling has given rise to the terrible specter of Donald J. Trump? The fact that this same character, now installed as Senate Majority Leader, stated that his august group would not even deign to consider an Obama selection for the vacant seat on the Supreme Court suggests that they have not.

Mitch McConnell and the permanently disaffected mobs whose irrational anger Republicans have stoked for so long eminently deserve a man like Trump in the White House. The rest of us do not.

— Alden Graves is a regular Banner columnist


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