Chronic Electile Dysfunction

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The original E.D., the Bob Dole kind, is typically age- and often disease-related.  Some semblance of the old urge is still there, but the hydraulics that translate the intention into action no longer pressurize the system effectively.  This is just as it would be if natural selection were the operant algorithm in biological evolution, as indeed it is.  No benefit to future survival when old or unhealthy guys barge into the reproductive scheme. But our particular species does not take No for an answer, and thus Viagra, Cialis, etc.  Better living, if not better life, through chemistry.

The New E.D., the governmental kind, seems to follow that pattern.  The body politic has aged; its systems have become less flexible, more sclerotic.  Glimmers of the old urge – to engender a continually renewed nation-state (Work with me; it’s a metaphor.) – can still be discerned, but the vascular system (in this case carrying information) is no longer up to the task.  Our governmental mechanism for problem-solving is, as Sweet Bird of Youth’s Miss Lucy wrote of Boss Finley, “too old to cut the mustard.”  As with Boss Finley, our system now produces much strut and talk and bluster, but it generates nothing alive and potent.  In the end it shows us only – and this is a technical governmental term – a limp dick.

The etiology of this New E.D. is well described.  As the culture generally becomes increasingly ignorant of the nation’s history with its rational values, the national vision that did and could unite us becomes increasingly blurred, smudged, pixelated.  But we are a highly social species – we do not thrive as individuals without group identity, values and goals – so we are increasingly susceptible to the offerings of nearer groups, those that may have less-elevated values, more short-term goals.  As the national vision recedes, and the local ones loom larger, the diversity and compromise implicit in the very concept of our nation-state come to feel increasingly alien.  To accommodate this feeling and to validate parochial values, congressional districts are gerrymandered whenever the mechanics of state government permit, thereby decreasing the likelihood that long-range national interests will prevail over short-term local ones.  The result is that U.S. Representatives’ seats increasingly depend on satisfying uninformed district demands and values that ignore, or are openly hostile to, national ones.  It is always safe to favor the local at the expense of the national; it is always dangerous to do the opposite.  So, when Representatives confront truly national problems, like Boss Finley confronting a ready and willing Miss Lucy, there is much posturing and graphic talk of prowess and potency but, when the soft music of impending legislative action is switched on and the sheets of governmental action are turned back invitingly, only the frustration of Electile Dysfunction, only the limp dick.

The current embarrassing instance of this has House Republicans slinking from the chamber, unable to get it up for an up or down vote on the Senate’s 89-10 bipartisan extension of the existing payroll tax cut.  Yes.  Republicans effectively willing to raise taxes on 160 million Americans, notwithstanding their Norquist pledges, notwithstanding the known likely negative effect on the economy, notwithstanding imposing this hardship at the sacred Christmas season.  How could this be in any objective national interest?  But how coherent this is from certain parochial points of view, if the majority of voters in your district simply loathe Barack Obama (out of racial or other subcultural biases).  Those voters will not punish you for damaging the economy.  Indeed, since the conventional wisdom is that a bad economy will diminish Obama’s 2012 election chances, they may actively reward you for such damage.  They will, however, punish you for giving Obama any sort of “victory”.  But to actually stiffen up and vote against that tax increase requires the potency that is missing, so the only way to maintain the manly image and hide that limp dick is to slap Miss Lucy, refuse to accept the Senate bill, and sweep from the chamber.

By now we’re all aware of the damage that smoking can do to the vascular system.  It is then perhaps emblematic that John Boehner, the nominal leader of the House Republicans and a helpless cigarette addict, is referred to as “Smoker Boner”.  (At least that’s what I think I hear everyone calling him.  Some have suggested that it’s “Speaker Bayner”, but I’m pretty sure it’s “Smoker Boner.”)  I do not consider his legislative impotence – he follows a vocal minority in his party rather than leading the majority – a moral failing.  The problem here is, rather, akin to a physical disability, Electile Dysfunction.  Smoker Boner, like the bulk of House Republicans, has no grand, national vision, only day-to-day local ones.

So is there a magic pill, a Viagra-like palliative in this now-tortured metaphor?  Alas, no.  Not unless something dramatic happens, something that makes the natural predominance of national issues unignorable, something that makes almost all of us – regardless of socioeconomic status or ethnicity or gender orientation or worldview – feel like Americans, some sort of cataclysm.  But this sounds like the dreaded “erection lasting more than four hours”.

Would we want to take such a pill?  Maybe we just accept this New E.D. as a natural consequence of the longevity of our Constitutional system.  Maybe instead of a pill we try some behavioral changes – learn more; presume and judge less.

ARC – 12/22/11

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