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 k / o
                                       politics + culture

Friday, January 20, 2006

an american psychodrama

One of the reasons that the GOP controls America is that our political establishment resembles nothing more than a dysfunctional family.

Like all dysfunctional families there’s been bad behaviour all around: Daddy’s abusive, mommy’s a doormat, big brother is loyal to dad even though he resents how dad treats him, big sister knows a secret but she isn’t telling.

And, yeah, the above would be ludicrous, if not a little bit pathetic, if it wasn’t so true. I bet, right off the bat, many of you could decode this analogy of the American Establishment without looking at the key below. (For all the literalist nudniks out there...it's the analogy that rings true. No implication regarding anyone's actual family life is intended herein...god forbid!):

Daddy = the GOP
Mommy = the Democratic Party
Big Brother = Corporations and American professional institutions
Big Sister = the media

Call it the psychodrama of our day.


Father doesn’t know best.

George Lakoff has been quite articulate in advancing a "strict father" model of conservatism.

With all due respect, I disagree. In practice, it's worse than that.

I don’t think the GOP is like a strict father. The GOP is an abusive father whose got some weird ideas about this country and what our “values” are. He’s kind of like...ahem...Dick Cheney when he talks about torture or terrorists. You know, just really...really...creepy.

You see, Daddy isn’t strict, that's letting the GOP off easy. He’s abusive.

For one, Daddy bullies Mommy on a regular basis. He is verbally abusive. He lies. He humiliates. He covers his tracks. He promises not to do it again. And then he does it anyway. Daddy talks about values all the time, but he doesn’t follow them. For Daddy, preaching "values" are more a way of maintaining control, something to bash others with, than anything one actually lives up to. And even though Mommy tries to work out the budget late at night at the kitchen table...Daddy’s bad habits make that meaningless. Mommy tries her best but it seems she just can’t get any traction to make a change. You’d think she’d leave, that she’d finally stand up for herself and her family, but she never...quite...does.

Truth is, Daddy doesn't let Mommy's ideas for improving family life even see the light of day. (If you follow no other link...read this piece by Michael Crowley on the House Rules Committee.) Like a true bully, Daddy's threatened by any idea that might knock his powerful self-image.

What keeps Daddy going is that he’s got everyone pretending that things are really okay. He bullies everyone into believing that we are the upstanding family that everyone sees in our Christmas pictures. We’re not broke. We’re not in debt. Daddy hasn’t mismanaged, say:

the war in Iraq
Hurrican Katrina
the national debt
the Medicare Drug Plan
Social Security
our nation's energy policy
our international alliances
our Constitution

Daddy may be an abusive bully, but he bullies us into believing that "father knows best." He bullies us into thinking that Mommy's ideas are worthless. He makes Mommy, Big Brother and Big Sister believe they should be grateful for the false sense of "safety and security" he has woven for them, that everything will be “okay” so long as they go along with the pretend world that Daddy’s made up.

Of course, like all abusive families. It isn’t okay.

Daddy’s hasn’t just mismanaged our affiairs, he's not just an abusive bully, Daddy’s done some bad things.

In fact, everybody knows that Daddy’s done some bad things. Mommy knows. Big Brother knows. Big Sister knows. In fact, Mommy wrote a letter about Daddy’s abusive behaviour and put it in a safe deposit box. Big Sister went to Daddy one night and told him she knew what he was doing. Big Brother pretends like he’s going to do what Daddy wants, but he’s really been planning to leave home and get away from Daddy and the mess he’s made.

And like all dysfunctional families where nothing changes, Mommy and Brother and Sister keep playing a big game of “let’s pretend” because they don’t know how to do anything else. They are caught up in the legacy of their bad behaviours. It's a cycle they can't seem to break.

Mommy and Big Brother and Big Sister are afraid that if they talk about the “bad things” that Daddy has done that somehow things will get worse. That he will attack them again. They think that maybe if they just turn away and hold their breath it will all be over someday. Secretly, Big Brother and Big Sister despise Mommy for not standing up to Daddy and his bullying. They see Mommy as weak and powerless. They buy into the picture of Mommy that Daddy has sold them.

The only way for this impasse to change is for someone to stand up to Daddy with enough conviction and persistance that he can't bully them back down again. Mommy seems incapable of doing it. Big Brother seems unwilling. And Big Sister is just "torn" to the point of inaction, so she goes along with Big Brother.

Maybe it's time for somebody in this ugly American psychodrama to stand up and put an end to this.

In George Bush's America, and with our current political establishment, that somebody has to be me and you.


  • Interesting post.

    I think some might object to the political rhetoric that implicitly feminizes the Democrats (and also reinforces the meme that they are the Mommy Party), especially since your post seems to imply that there is something (at least metaphorically) feminine about the weakness of the Democrats (or for that matter, the media). I do not think you intended to do this, but you need to be careful to recognize that Lakoff did not oppose strict father with nurturing mother, but with nuturing parent. I understand that the over-arching metaphor forced you to put the Democrats in the role of the mother. I just wanted to point out that, whatever the cause, there is a political valance to the change.

    That said, as a literary piece I really like it.

    By Blogger Matt, at 11:46 AM  

  • I've always thought "strict father" implied a gendering of the analogy. So, it's seemed to me a cop out to then say "parent."

    It's the GOP that "mommy"-fies the Dems.

    If we Dems want to be viewed as a party that breaks out of this dynamic we need to take some concerted coordinated steps in the direction Al Gore pointed. We need to stand together. (It would be nice to hear our leaders speak about "Brother" and "Sister" a bit too...in a coordinated way.)

    For me, the idea that our ideas, our legislation has been ruthlessly blocked in the Rules Committee for over a decade and we haven't made this a major issue begs the question.

    There's nothing wrong with the Democrats that a little backbone wouldn't help.

    Backbone is gender neutral.

    Of course, even we grow a backbone, we still need to win legislative majorities, and, I would bet, we'll still have to deal with our national psychodrama.

    By Blogger kid oakland, at 1:20 PM  

  • I don't know if the Democrats are the Mommy Party, but they are a bunch of pussies. Example: Reid's abject apology to the Republicans after calling them corrupt. This shows that our leaders have no balls.

    By Blogger Brenda, at 6:30 PM  

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