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Monday, May 31, 2010

THE MAID AND THE PIT BULL


"From Napoleon to the present, French politicians of all leanings have invoked her memory” (Wikipedia).

The quote refers to Joan of Arc. Here, though, the image invoking her memory is not that of the Maid of Orleans, but of the Pit Bull of capitalism, Ayn Rand. Yes, that’s the same Rand Texas Congressman Ron Paul chose as the namesake for his son, the Kentucky ophthalmologist running for the U.S. Senate.

Since repeatedly confusing his area of medicine with podiatry by fitting his foot in his mouth (the better to say what he really thinks), Rand has taken to appearing in scrubs. Presumably, this authenticates his status as a healer, a man anxious to treat the nation’s ills.

So it makes sense to reflect on his namesake Ayn Rand, suited up in full armor on a poster at a Tea Party rally last month in Naples, Florida. Mounted on horseback as military leaders always are, Saint Ayn is carrying the colors into battle. This time, it’s not the Siege of Orleans in the fifteenth century, but the Thermopylae of twenty-first century America, the pitched battle between her loyal troops—the Pauls for instance-- and the dark forces who support laws protecting civil rights, oversight of business, programs like Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, the Interstate highway system, the Tennessee Valley Authority—or anything else that compromises the religion of laissez faire capitalism.

Whereas Saint Joan “asserted that she had visions from God that told her to recover her homeland from English domination late in the Hundred Years’ War” (Wikipedia again), Saint Ayn had Big Ideas. If not heaven-sent, they certainly summoned her to recruit followers for the purpose of recovering her adopted homeland from liberalism. Even though Rand was a lifelong atheist, she and all those in her camp lay claim to what can only be thought of as divine guidance. How else is it possible to make sense of such certainty in the need to protect the sanctity of the profit motive against oversight and regulation? How else is it possible to believe BP needs a champion?

Make no mistake: seeing economics in terms of laws as immutable as those governing nature is nothing more or less than religion. And the way to be true to the faith is to believe (if not to say) that God has blessed laissez faire capitalism, and that He insists on an ideological purity not seen since Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

That’s just about how far you have to go in order to fully grasp how people in our own time—not at the end of the Middle Ages—have turned themselves over to “visions” of the sort that lead to Rand Paul. In or out of scrubs, he needs to be understood not in terms of secular principles, but in those of medieval scholastic theology. That is, with notions having little to do with life here on twenty-first century Planet Earth.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

SCHADENFREUDE

I am grateful to the German language for a word—schadenfreude. It refers to the warm glow that honest people can’t deny feeling when someone they don’t like suffers in some way. It’s nothing to be proud of, this feeling, but it’s definitely there.


--Are you happy to be back in Michigan?
--Very.
--Happy to be teaching again this summer?
--Almost very.
--Anyway, you look pleased with yourself. What are you so jovial about?
--A mental image. I see Ayn Rand’s namesake down in Kentucky.
--Really? Seeing Rand Paul should produce something very different in you. Say, a Tourette moment.
--Oh, I’m sure a Tourette moment can’t be far away, but just now I’m enjoying the mental picture.
--Do you know who Paul looks like to me? Bill Hailey, of Bill Hailey and the Comets. Remember him? Rand Paul has the same hilarious hairstyle.
--I’m trying to avoid ad hominem arguments. You have your Rand Paul, I have mine. I see him wearing one of those headlamp reflector things. Ophthalmologists used to wear them. He’s an eye doctor, you know. I remember an old guy fitting me for glasses when I was a boy. He wore one of those.
--But that’s not all you’re seeing.
--No. Dr. Rand Paul has the reflector thing on so he can provide free eye exams on the campaign trail. As his spiritual guide Ayn Rand teaches us--that font of all intellectual wisdom regarding human nature--there can be no institutional, tax-supported charity. It corrupts society and prevents the best people from realizing their full potential.
--Uh huh. Which you don’t want in an A-plus, quality-type country, right?
--Right as rain, Barbara. That’s exactly what you don’t want. Because, then everything just goes to hell in a hand basket. No Medicaid or Medicare allowed, either. No welfare or unemployment benefits. Only private, freely chosen acts of generosity are acceptable.
--So that’s why Dr. Paul is giving eye exams gratis.
--Exactly. That’s just what Dr. Paul is doing with his reflector, stopping here and there along the campaign trail to examine voters’ eyes. For free. It’s a freely chosen, completely generous act on his part.
--No quid pro quo? No pledge promising to vote for him? Because if there is, Dr. Paul’s not so generous.
--I don’t know about any pledge. In my mind’s eye, I don’t see anyone signing anything. No insurance forms, or co-pay agreements.
--OK then, it’s free.
--But even if they sign a pledge, it’s still a completely legitimate transaction between buyer and seller. No government meddling figures.
--Good, I’m glad. We have enough of that.
--Enough? Barbara, you haven’t been listening to Dr. Rand, or his dad Ron. It’s not that we have enough government. We have way, way too much. The only thing you need government for is to build missile silos in the Dakotas, and run army training camps. Although it’s probably better to outsource the training camps to Blackwater. That would make for more freedom.
--In your mind’s eye, is Dr. Rand wearing a white lab coat so everyone knows he’s a healer?
--He is. But there’s a small problem with the coat. It’s too long. Walking and talking as he goes, he’s kicking the hem, telling people along the street about how wrong the Civil Rights Act is. How it prevents employers from flipping the bird at minorities. Which is every employers’ right, or should be. And would be, if Dr. Rand were running things. Which he hopes to do. So he’s in his too-long lab coat, walking and telling folks this crazy Civil Rights thing isn’t something he can really accept, stopping to check another pair of eyes before moving on.
--He trips and falls, screwing up his Bill Hailey haircut.
--No, but Dr. Paul does keep forgetting to watch where he’s stepping. And a nasty thing keeps happening each time he moves on, still talking before reaching the next voter patient.
--I think I know the nasty thing. But I have a question. If Dr. Paul performs eye surgery, doesn’t he have to do it in a hospital? Aren’t hospitals dependent on government money? Don’t some of his patients get Medicare or Medicaid? Or does he insist they all pay him in millet or lamb chops?
-- Not a problem. Just shove the gurney under a freeway underpass, clear out the homeless living there, and start cutting. Oh, and now Dr. Paul is voicing support for British Petroleum’s right to not be controlled or restricted in its efforts to find a cork big enough to stop that thing in the Gulf. Because when you get down to it, it’s not really anyone’s fault, is it? Sometimes plain old nasty accidents just happen. Know what I mean?
--Is a Tourette moment in the works? Let me know, I’ll go do some gardening.
--Not yet, the mental image is still working for me. See, Dr. Rand is still at it, walking, and talking about something else government should never meddle with. Uh oh, there he’s gone and done it again—stepped in another large mound of dog poo. He’s kicking it all over his overlong lab coat, fouling his nice oxfords. Shoes suited to a man in business for himself, like Dr. Paul. And I have to assume he learned medicine on his own, because a man with his principles would never attend a medical school supported by federal and state tax money.
--It couldn’t be easy, home-schooling someone in ophthalmology.
--No, it wasn’t. But how else could his family remain true to their libertarian ideals? And I mean Dr. Rand’s shoes would be right for a doctor, if they weren’t now covered with crap. Those dogs had to be Dalmatians or bigger.
--I thought it was going to be horse dung.
--That would make sense in Kentucky, but it's dogs. And it’s odd. Even with free eye exams, most of the people along the campaign trail still don’t seem to be noticing the crap on Rand’s lab coat. Or his shoes. They’re too busy hanging on his every word.
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