Friday, July 29, 2011

The Debt Ceiling and the Renunciatory Quest

Let's forgive Senator McCain for confounding Middle Earth with The Shire.

The Senator's sudden insertion of Tolkein's Lord of the Rings into the debate over the U.S. national debt immediately evoked in me the reaction "Senator McCain is, evidently, casting himself as Saruman." Saruman and his minions are the only characters in the entire trilogy to sneer at hobbits, and Senator McCain's brand of bipartisanship so often seems to echo the fallen wizard:

"But we must have power, power to order all things as we will, for that good which only the Wise can see."

"And listen, Gandalf, my old friend and helper!" he said, coming near and speaking now in a softer voice. "I said we, for we it may be, if you will join with me. A new Power is rising. Against it the old allies and policies will not avail us at all."

"This then is one choice before you, before us. We may join with that Power. It would be wise, Gandalf. There is hope that way. Its victory is at hand; and there will be rich reward for those that aided it. As the Power grows, its proved friends will also grow; and the Wise, such as you and I, may with patience come at last to direct its courses, to control it."

Now, President Obama hardly rises (or descends) to the level of the Dark Lord Sauron, the "new Power" Saruman advocates joining, but Gandalf's description of Sauron "weighing everything to a nicety in the scales of his malice" and not being able to imagine that anyone would not want the power he seeks to wield seems to fit the Democrats collectively: they can't really believe that people are motivated to limit government, to destroy the very "ring of power" they want to wield. Tea Partiers can't really be after limited government, they must be racists or be trying to seize the reigns of government for some nefarious purpose.

And McCain, like Saruman, wants to play their game in hopes of the GOP wielding the same power of bloated government in place of the Democrats. Of course, this is a fool's errand, just as Saruman's attempt to set up on his own in competition with Mordor was. America has no need of two parties of big government, and when the GOP try to be a party of big government, making an Isengard as a slave's flattery of Barad-dur, they always lose.

For those steeped in Tolkien's mythos, branding the Tea Party as "hobbits" actually seems oddly appropriate. Tolkien's "little people" lived in the "fly over country" of Middle Earth, the Shire, ignored by the Wise (Gandalf the Grey, excepted) and the Enemy, ignored by the elves who traveled across the Shire on their way to the sea. They were farmers and shopkeepers and artisans, whose government was limited to a postal service, a few "Shirrifs" who mostly served as haywards, the "Bounders", a sort of border patrol, and one elected and one hereditary office. They had fixed laws "ancient and just", and thus no need for a legislature. Mostly they just wanted to be left alone to live peaceful, prosperous lives, very much as the Tea Party really just wants to be left alone.

But there is also a similarity between the Tea Party caucus in Congress and the hobbits who became notable among the Wise: like the Ring-Bearer, Frodo, they are engaged in a renunciatory quest. They did not go to Washington to wield the "ring of power" of deficit spending and powers accreted to the Federal government, if not in violation of the Constitution as interpreted by the courts, at least in violation of its plain meaning, but to destroy it.

Those of us sufficiently hobbit-like to just want to the Federal government to leave us alone, those of us who hope our children can live free, prosperous lives unburdened by the monstrous debt that now drags our country down like the Ring weighing on Frodo as he plodded to Mount Doom, must hope that they do not lose their nerve at the last moment as Frodo did, or if they do, that unaccountably someone from the other side of the aisle will step in to play the role of Gollum, and destroy their "Precious".