For those of us who first saw the Wizard of Oz as children, Dorothy, Toto and her imaginary friends will live forever in our memories. Like all classics this story continues to enchant new generations of children. Like so many literary classics it also serves as a morality play illustrating the never-ending battle between good and evil and false leaders projecting themselves as more than they really are.
In the true sense of a classic the story remains relevant today serving as a metaphor for our moribund political leadership and the continuing fight between two sides each defining themselves as good and the other as evil.
So, let’s take a trip down the yellow brick road and explore the Wizard of Oz as a contemporary story for the politics of today.
Dorothy as the embodiment of the United States is lost and on a trip that she does not know where it will take her, nor how she got there. When she lands among the munchkins, she finds a people living in fantasy world waiting to be rescued, similar to the American people of today, such as the 52% in a recent Gallup poll that found the widening gap between rich and poor as an “acceptable part of our economic system.” So Dorothy as America is lost without direction, seeking leadership to help her find the way home. Instead she is given roadblocks, a twisting path and setbacks along the way. Similarly today, each political party promises us that they will show us the way if we just put our faith in them, but then fail to provide any true leadership to help us find the path home.
The character of Dorothy as a child is illustrative of how our political leaders treat the American people. We are considered to be children incapable of knowing what is best for us and told that if we would only follow their path blindly we will find our way. Instead we get deeper and deeper into a confusing path with no clear way out and unforeseen dangers at every turn: two threatened shutdowns of government, no clear policy on taxes or the recovery, an increasing tax burden on working people while reducing taxes on the wealthiest, all contributing to a growing national debt creating dark clouds on the horizon.
But still we dance down the yellow brick road.
First Dorothy finds the scarecrow. He’s a nice sort of fellow, a sack of straw masquerading as a person, but alas he has no brain. Yes, this lovable scarecrow without a brain could only be representative of the Tea Party. A movement born in anger, with one discernable objective – limit government’s role because big government is bad and it must be starved down to size. Well, in reality what they are saying is that big government is bad when it is in service to others, but when disaster strikes, just like everybody else they want the government to come in and help. If they only had a brain, they would understand that it is government that maintains the rods they drive on, the bridges they cross and that if it were not for government they would be working seven days a week at below poverty wages. The world is so easy to understand when you don’t have brain to muck things up with the facts.
The most recent example of this is Tea Party activist turned mayor of Flint, Michigan who recently turned down an $8.5 million federal grant to build transportation hub, because she believes that “There’s nothing free about government money,” Mayor Janice Daniels said in an interview. “It’s never free, and it’s crippling our way of life.” Placing her ideology before practicality denying the reality of how unemployment cripples people’s way of life by blocking the promise of new jobs as a result of the new transportation hub, Mayor Daniels demonstrates the blind allegiance to ideology over what is good for her constituents.
Facts, oh yes that is another thing that a brain is good for, understanding and making sense out of facts. Our straw-filled, brainless friends deny global climate change in the face of volumes of scientific fact, but challenge a potentially dangerous pipeline because they say here are no scientific facts to support its opposition. But as experience shows us, without a brain, one cannot make sense of facts even once they are presented in logical and irrefutable fashion. Then there is the obsession with no tax increase, and the Tea Party Congress members who have signed a pledge to not raise taxes. Without a brain to take in and interpret information, these folks are willing to sit back and watch municipalities go into bankruptcy and the federal government face the brink of shutdown. That is not leadership, that is blind allegiance to an ideology that does not work, followed only by someone who does not have the brainpower to think critically.
Next Dorothy comes across the Tin Man, who lacks heart. If only the wizard could help him gain a heart all will be right. In or modern day morality play the Tin Man, without a heart is representative of the Republican Party. A party that has become so focused on representing the wealthiest among us that it has lost its heart in the service of its benefactors. Tax cuts for the wealthiest while reducing essential services for everyone else. Critical government benefits such as an extension of unemployment benefits are held hostage to continued tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. While insisting that deficit reduction can only be achieved by spending cuts targeted at working and low income Americans, their insistence on rewarding their wealthy benefactors with tax cuts adds to the deficit. Further indication of an empty place where their hearts should be is that while insisting on a so-called “strict interpretation” of the Constitution, they ignore a phrase in the preamble that clearly states that it is the role of government to “promote the general welfare.” But without a heart, the Republican interpretation of that phrase becomes to promote the welfare of the few at the cost of the many.
Then there is the lion, all he needs is courage; a perfect description of today’s Democratic Party. Today’s Democratic Party has become a collection of men and women without the courage to fight for what they should stand for. This is a group of people that like the lion in Dorothy’s tale, runs from the fight before it even begins. For example take a major part of the party’s 2008 platform – no extension of the Bush-era tax cuts that mostly benefitted the wealthy. Without so much as a whimper, the Democrats agreed to a two-year extension of these cuts and now only have the courage to complain that they exist, but not to do anything about it. The same can be said for giving up universal health care even before the negotiations began and most recently signing approval of a defense spending bill that takes away basic rights of US citizens who can be held without trial indefinitely just for suspicion of terrorist activities.
Like Dorothy we are lost in a strange and foreboding land without anyone to lead us out but yet we manage to pick up baggage along the way without any promise of their ability to help us out or to find the way home. But wait we have one more friend to find, perhaps he will be the one to help us in our journey –Now we come to the Wizard himself, the guiding philosopher of the tea party – Grover Norquist. This is the man who has expressed his desire to shrink the federal government down to where t is small enough to drown in the bathtub. The no-tax pledge blindly signed by Tea Party and Republican member of Congress was his brainchild. While Grover Norquist stands as the guiding light of the Tea Party and it’s anti-government activists, we never get to see what is going on behind the curtain. But pull it away and you will see the dirty little secret of this so-called “grassroots movement.” Norquist and the Tea Party are funded by the billionaire Koch brothers and by Karl Roves latest incarnation Freedom Works. This is hardly the making of a grassroots movement, rather it is perhaps the biggest corporate lobbying machine fighting any type of government regulation or taxation that might level the playing field and reduce the influence of corporate dollars in the political system.
With a cast of characters like this, I am afraid that real life can only mimic fantasy for so long, then they must part company. So, unless the American people rise up and push back there will be no happy ending here. We will not find our way home and the morass that is Congress will only become more dysfunctional, is that is at all possible.