National Commentary

Lemmings Stampede to the Cliff

Since there is so much talk about cliffs (mostly of the fiscal variety) these days, it occurs to me that perhaps the most iconic “over the cliff” movie ever was James Dean’s 1955 Academy Award-winning “Rebel Without a Cause.”

Last time I checked this was mandatory viewing in English classes in thousands of American high schools, although the last time I checked was about 15 years ago. It was brought into classrooms by teachers to show and then discuss.

A classic on a number of levels, it gained special attention upon its release because its compelling star, James Dean, died in a car crash a month before the film’s release. Ironically, in the film Dean’s character escapes a fatal car wreck when a game of “chicken” results in his adversary dying, instead.

Of course, that was the horrible aspect of “Rebel Without a Cause,” one of the first and most influential films to seriously call into question prevailing definitions of what teenage boys are supposed to grow up to be like, of what it means “to be a man.”

So now, it looks like Washington is playing the same kind of “chicken run” game shown in “Rebel Without a Cause.” Somebody’s liable to get their sleeve caught in the door handle and go over the cliff to a fiery demise, and it looks pretty certain that if that happens, it will be the Republicans.

This is not a partisan thing to say, actually; merely observational. The Republicans, whose colossal ineptitude led to across-the-board defeats in November, are right back at it. They’re now threatening to set huge tax increases upon the entire U.S. population unless President Obama drops his insistence that a small tax rate increase be imposed on the two percent of the wealthiest Americans.

Who do you think will win that public relations battle if that happens? Who do you think is going to drive away the nearly half of Americans who supported them in November if that happens?

What’s evolving into the purely bizarre is the apparently sincere insistence by John Boehner and his colleagues that unless Obama gives in, this is exactly what they are prepared to let happen.

It’s scary. Perhaps it’s a suicidal gesture, like falling on one’s sword after a major failure (that would be the November election). But rather than doing it with dignity, these Republicans would bring down the entire U.S. population with them. Hardly any honor or nobility in that.

It’s reminiscent of the nuclear football of the Cold War, when the West and the East Bloc went nose-to-nose in a race that ensured any onset of nuclear hostilities would guarantee a “mutual and assured destruction” of the entire human race and the life-bearing potentials of the planet.

The shorthand for the phrase, “mutual and assured destruction,” was “MAD,” and indeed, madness was its premise. The idea each side tried to impose on the other was that, “Yes, we really are crazy enough to blow all humanity to smithereens,” followed by a shrieking cackle.

However, in the current game of brinksmanship, we can worry that, for the Republicans, the crazy behavior may be more than just a game. After, all look back at their recent history.

Look back at the role a puppet named Grover has had on them, and moreover, continues having to this day (that would be “tax pledge” enforcer Grover Norquist, who morphed from an angry geek to a regular on the 24-7 news cycle, revered by commentators for his Rasputin-like mesmerizing powers over his GOP flock).

Maybe the GOP has become a giant, if shrinking, politically-suicidal cult, chanting irrational ideological convictions as it, like a lemming hoard, scurries toward the cliff.

If, indeed, they hurl over that cliff, what awaits them down below is their obliteration.

Many, as they go sailing down, will insist that everything’s fine because they see so many of their colleagues doing the same thing. So it may appear to them until the moment of impact.

The victims of Jonestown weren’t that stupid. They drank the Kool Aid only because they had guns to their heads.