Friday, February 17, 2006

The Democrats must not allow a biography gap

Accidents will happen, but as any Freudian will tell you, there are accidents, and then there are self-destructive moments when you unconsciously conspire with Fate, circumstance, a few beers, and a shot gun to reveal the whole of your twisted inner psyche to the world as if seized by a heavenly desire to stand on the Salem scaffold, confess it all, and show the assembled congregation the great big scarlet A on your chest.

A for Asshole.

Dick Cheney appears to have had one of those accidents. Over the last week everything rotten, seamy, dangerous, and threatening in his character seems to have summed itself up in one perfect, symbolic story. The fable of his life has been written and you'd think that from here on out, wherever he goes, he will be held in the universal contempt he's so determinedly earned. But probably not. I think he may get away with it.

The story is just too good a story.

As I said, everything rotten about Cheney has been on display all week. His arrogance, his hypocrisy, his innate dishonesty, his sense of entitlement, his swaggering certainty that the laws as written do not apply to him, he can obey them to whatever degree he feels like, and the police as his personal flunkeys will bow and scrape and follow his orders. His carelessness about others, his placing of his self-regard and reputation above another man's life. The circumstances that set up the accident show up the material corruption of the man. Canned hunts are the most childish, wasteful, and brutal way for a spoiled rich man to indulge himself. My god, if you can't think of a better method for throwing away your money, then just keep it in the vault and go down and count it in the dark every night, at least that's a form of avarice that pays homage to the virtue of thrift.

It's all perfect, in the way perfect stories are perfect. Chekhov couldn't have written one more revealing, although he came spookily close.

But that's the trouble. People love good stories and they react to the true ones with the same excitement and sympathy with which they react to the made up ones. We love stories for the way they entertain us, but we also love them for the lessons we learn from them, and the best stories all teach the same thing, that human beings are flawed and weak and deserve understanding and pity. They encourage tolerance and foregiveness.

The story of the shooting shows up Dick Cheney as a rotten human being. But it shows him as a human being. He's easier to hate as an abstraction.

We can despise someone and sympathize with him.

I don't know what will come of all this. I think that those of us to whom Cheney is a clear-cut villain might very well wind up as frustrated as the Clinton haters who were sure that Monica would be the end of Bill. The Lewinsky Scandal was another great story---I'm still surprised there's been no good novel written about it yet.---and Monica and Bill turned out to be sympathetic characters. Ken Starr made a convincing villain.

I don't know if Cheney will be saved by the story that should damn him, but this has me thinking about one of the problems Democrats have. Republicans these days seem to make better stories.

I don't mean that they are better at telling stories, which they are, as many a blogger and pundit has pointed out.

I mean that their lives make for better stories.

Not because they're better people. Just the opposite. But flawed, weak, sinful, and vice-ridden people are more interesting characters.

I'll have to expand on this idea later.

For now, to put it simply, look at the comparative biographies of George Bush and John Kerry.

George Bush's biography makes a great story---with a terrible moral. It's still a fascinating story, full of chills, thrills, and suspense---How much more harm can the man do?

But after his days leading the Vietnam Vets against the War, when he settled down to his career as a lawyer and politician, John Kerry's biography makes...

A great resume.

Cross posted at Ezra Klein's place.


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