Some day I’ll forgive Adam Kirsch for planting the image in my head of Emily Dickinson’s brother Austin and Mabel Loomis Todd getting gymnastic on the living room sofa while Emily was upstairs pretending nothing was going on, Life in that Amherst house was more exciting than we knew.
While the lovers trysted on the first floor, Emily Dickinson was up in her bedroom on the second. She must have known perfectly well what was going on. As Lyndall Gordon writes in Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds, there must have been some kind of understanding about which rooms the poet was not to enter and when for fear of getting an eyeful. But what makes the story so odd, and so characteristic of Dickinson, is that she managed to live in the same house where Todd was so unmistakably present without ever meeting her. In fact, when Emily Dickinson died, on May 15, 1886, she had never once laid eyes on Mabel Todd—the woman who tore her family apart and who would make her poetry famous.
Todd would survive Emily and go on to edit and find a publisher for Emily’s work. One rejection from an editor said Emily’s poems were “generally devoid of the true poetical qualities.” It also turns out that Emily may have liked her privacy because she had epilepsy and was afraid of anyone seeing her have an episode. Maybe Todd’s painstaking work on the editing and seeking out publishers, for what she viewed as unrecognized genius, was a kind of repayment for intruding on Emily’s privacy.
THE HEART asks pleasure first,
And then, excuse from pain;
And then, those little anodynes
That deaden suffering;
And then, to go to sleep;
And then, if it should be
The will of its Inquisitor,
The liberty to die.
It’s not simply about making the Obama administration look bad. Many Republicans actually love economic recessions. No better means of disciplining the labor force has ever been devised.
That’s the real message behind the GOP’s Senate filibuster denying extended federal benefits to roughly a million long-term unemployed. The same bill, which failed 57-41, would also have provided $16 billion in Medicaid help to states overburdened by declining tax revenues.
In consequence, several hundred thousand cops, teachers, firefighters and other public employees are sure to be laid off due to state budget cuts. Fat lot of good that will do the economy. But working stiffs will be keeping their heads down, won’t they?
[ ]…But that’s only part of the story. One of the enduring mysteries of American life is how Republicans keep succeeding by failing. The presidency of George W. Bush ought to have inoculated American voters against GOP economic theories for a generation. Tax cuts for the wealthy led not to greater prosperity, but runaway budget deficits, a doubled national debt and the weakest job creation since World War II. See-no-evil financial deregulation damn near destroyed the world banking system.
By the time President Obama was inaugurated last January, the economy was bleeding 750,000 lost jobs a month; the Congressional Budget Office had already projected the FY 2009 deficit at $1.3 trillion — a budget written by the Bush White House. After taking over in 2001 with a healthy budget surplus and some economists warning against paying down the debt too fast, Bush doubled it to over $10 trillion in eight short years.
How dare anyone suggest that Bush and republican policies are responsible for the general havoc in which the nation was left after Bush sold the fake ranch and conservatives reinvented themselves as the tea baggers. Much of economics beyond the lemon-aide stand model is made up, but that made up model is subject to the same laws of entropy which governs the physical world. It takes a lot more energy to create or repair a sandcastle than it does to destroy it.
But a lot of voters simply don’t know it. Indeed, many people actively refuse to understand anything important about what the federal budget consists of or the role of government in modern economies. Millions remain captive to what Paul Krugman calls “zombie lies”: long disproven canards like the one that says cutting tax rates invariably leads to higher revenues. Because it’s so counterintuitive, parroting it makes Rush Limbaugh fans feel like intellectuals.
But self-deception goes deeper than that. I began to think about that after recently being invited to leave the country by a stockbroker who’d be picking up cans on the side of the road had the (Bush administration’s) TARP bailout not rescued his employer from insolvency. Yet he appears to see himself as an Ayn Rand hero, a rugged individualist, economically autonomous and disdainful of anybody needing government help.
Humanity has always loved its delusions. One could say that life is pretty unbearable without a few choice ones. The ones that inspire us to get off the couch and work, to create something, to stave off the mind numbing boredom that sets in if we don’t. Not to mention those nerve grating phone calls from bill collectors. Like jelly beans there is a point at which delusions can become unhealthy. Thinking Medicare is not a government program, because if it is, that means you’re kinda dependent on the pool of contributors. On the list of ways to shot yourself in the foot while it’s in your mouth. Thinking Bush was just a good ol’boy who made a few small screw-ups, but really didn’t betray his own country is an exhibition in stunted maturity. The delusions and denial seem to win over humility and changing course. Thus we’re set on recycle mode. Maybe it is not that we’re doomed to repeat the history we do not know, but to repeat the history many of our fellow citizens revise in their heads.