Friday, November 10, 2006

Genius is overrated

A sportswriter once asked Warren Spahn what it was like to play for Casey Stengel, widely considered the most brilliant mind in baseball during his stewardship of the New York Yankees. Spahn had started his Hall of Fame career under Stengel with the long-vanished Boston Braves, and they met again on the 1962 New York Mets, both teams of near-epochal ineptitude. With his customary dry wit, Spahn remarked, "I played for Casey before and after he was a genius."

Now that Karl Rove has been revealed to be no smarter than the average Republican, it's useful to remember that there are at least two kinds of genius: those who create in relative solitude through gifts the rest of us can scarcely fathom (Mozart, Leonardo, Einstein) and those wholly dependent upon the talents of others and conditions outside their control (Oppenheimer, say, or the general or admiral of your choice). Once he contrived to install George W. Bush in the White House with a majority in both houses of Congress, Rove could no more prevent the disastrous invasion of Iraq (assuming he wished to) than he could stop a tropical depression off the African coast from becoming Hurricane Katrina. These probably would have been enough to end the Republican hegemony of the last six years without all the help they got along the way.

In full panic mode, the Republican Party is not a pretty sight. As poll after poll foretold disaster, they struck the Big Tent and scrambled aboard the Armored Personnel Carrier of Hate. Racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, nativism, mocking the chronically ill -- by Tuesday night, when the last commercial had aired, all I wanted was a prolonged shower with strong soap. A confession: I hate being lied to. I used to wear a button that said THEY'RE LYING! Nobody ever asked me who "they" were. We all know it's happening, and we know there's not much we can do except refuse to believe anybody, and that makes you tired and depressed all the time. We choose the lie that offends us least. I think that's what happened last Tuesday.

Who can say if "negative" campaigning works? Few voters will tell pollers they vote their hatreds. Maybe people in Tennessee are congratulating themselves on saving white womanhood from Harold Ford, Jr., or maybe they saw how far to the right he was on issues like same-sex marriage and thought, Six of one, half a dozen of the other. There are plenty of "New Democrats" who inspire as little confidence as the "New Nixon" trotted out in 1968, tanned, rested, and ready to bomb Hanoi and subvert the Constitution. What's the use of controlling the Senate if the Majority Leader won't fight for reproductive freedom? Why should I be thrilled by the new Speaker's gender credentials if she categorically rules out impeachment before picking up the gavel? And all this "common grounds" talk had better be just that, talk. We didn't elect them to make common ground with war criminals and incompetents. Now that Howard Dean is a genius, he needs to remember who made him one.


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