Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Painful Extended Metaphor on the Occasion of Alberto Gonzales' Resignation

Ding, Dong! The witch is dead!
Which old witch? The Wicked Witch!
Ding, Dong! The Wicked Witch is dead!

I admit, it was the first thing that went through my head when I heard the news this morning. It's childish (though if you've got a little one of your own, you know how easy it is for their music to get stuck in your head) but heartfelt: the failure of the Department of Justice to be anything but an enabling enforcement arm of unconstitutional and un-American activities cuts to the quick of my citizen's heart.

Then I thought about it a little more and realized that we may have begun the journey that will get us back to the heartland, back to reality, back to those we love. Yes, I'm about to compare the future of the Republic to The Wizard of Oz.

Having landed, more or less by accident (something about sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind applies to our soon-to-be-former-AG, not to mention Congressional Republicans) on the Wicked Witch of the East (I think that makes the DoJ employees Munchkins, which I hope they won't take the wrong way: they're free!), we now have on our feet a great power which the Wicked Witch of the West would willingly destroy us to get (subpoena power, independent prosecutors, real Justice) but we can't really use it all on our own. We want to get back to Kansas (restore the Constitution! abandon Imperial projects! etc.) but we can't do it on our own, so we look for leadership and wisdom in the Great and Powerful Oz (Congressional Democrats and Democratic Presidential candidates). They tell us that we have to slay the Wicked Witch of the West first, which we do in the process of trying to protect ourselves and our friends (investigating illegal wiretapping, bringing an end to the slaughter in Iraq, protecting our troops by calling administration-connected contractors to account, and generally putting an end to this administration, via impeachment or electoral victory).

We then discover, to our chagrin, that the Great and Wonderful Oz is a fraud who has no magic (we've been disappointed by our Democratic leadership before, and there's an awful lot of mealy-mouthed moderation out on that campaign trail), but that we ourselves have the power within us to restore that which is precious. The Ruby Slippers can bring us home if we truly believe that we belong at home, if we deeply understand what it is we've lost and honestly wish to return. Even with all its flaws, there's no place like home. Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.

Democracy, Constitutional Government, Responsible Leadership, Messy Internationalism: that is our farm in Kansas. It's a lot more colorful than we give it credit for; certainly a lot more real and precious than the technicolor certitudes of Oz, the false color of the Emerald City (in the book version, it's all illusion, like looking for a "true leader" among modern careerist politicos), the rule by magic and force of the Wicked Witches.

I haven't fully cast this yet. I think Dorothy is the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," though she's also the whole American population. The "Heartless" but Sentimental Tin Man, the "Brainless" but very clever Scarecrow, the "Cowardly" but frightening Lion, the "Good Witch" who keeps us from falling deathly asleep.... I'm not sure who fills those spots. We need them filled, though.


Anonymous said...

L. Frank Baum's original book was, by some interestingly speculative accounts, a meditation on the failure of Populism (Bryan is the cowardly lion, the farmers are the scarecrow, the workers are the tin man, etc.), so your morning's idyll has an honorable and useful pedigree.

Nonpartisan said...

So you don't believe in the Gold Standard origins of the Wizard? I thought that was orthodoxy at this point.

Anonymous said...

And security is the poppies ....

Suzanne G. said...

Perhaps you've got it backwards. Dorothy, Toto, and the 3 companions are the American populace. The Tin Man is a republican who is cold and needs a heart. The Lion is a Republican who puts up a front but has never served in the military. The Scarecrow is the happy go lucky majority of the Democrats. Dorothy and Toto are the average Americans. George Bush is Oz, he's had everyone put on green glasses so everything looks great.

The trappings of Oz are lies. They are things that distract us from what is really important, home and family. We are distracted by the poppies, the city, the witch(Arabs), and even the yellow brick road(fence on the border). What we really need to do is get in touch with those RED slippers. Once we all realize who we are we get in touch with our red-state side and click our way to justice and perspective.

Anonymous said...

Cute analogy, but you have glossed over the last step. What is it that we have had in our power all along? What are the ruby slippers? If the democrats are nothing more than the smoke-and-mirrors wielding Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz, then elections cannot function as the ruby slippers. What is our power?

Ahistoricality said...

Constitutional Democracy. Rights and Suffrage in equal measure, and an official class that sees itself as servants of the people -- because the people control their destiny -- instead of petty and perpetual lords over them.

The Democrats qua party are corrupt and spineless, but they're not stupid: a mass movement in favor of constitutionalism and democracy can push pseudo-democrats in the right direction in spite of themselves. Remember the Taisho Crisis?

Anonymous said...

Yes, but. Neither effective for your metaphor nor convincing. What is the mechanism to enforce constitutional democracy if you can't count on the opposition party or the press? The Taisho crisis worked because the government was unfamiliar with the concept of grass-roots movements and was caught off-guard. If they'd been on the ball, it would have been quashed and nothing would have changed. In America today, I'd hate to have my civil liberties depend on the unwillingness of my government to suppress dissent. Then again, they probably already do.

Ahistoricality said...

Your rights always depend on the unwillingness of the government to supress dissent. The only defense against it is a citizenry sufficiently aware of its rights and willing to fight for them that the government is, in fact, unwilling to supress dissent.

Insist on an independent judiciary? Depends on legislative watchdogs and prosecutorial discretion, both of which are influenced by public mobilization. Insist on the constitution? Dead-letter law unless we act on it.

Government isn't a thing: it's a group of people doing what they think they can get away with. Often with the best of intentions (sometimes not), but still limited only by their imaginations and our tolerance.