The big guy's burden

I think I’m getting over my outrage over the Senate “compromise” on judicial nominees and the filibuster, after venting and getting a couple hours’ sleep. And with that behind me, I think I can understand a little what the Republicans are going through.

I’ve always been a “big guy.” I’ve been overweight most of my life. I’m six feet tall, broadly built. When people think of the phrase “pick on someone your own size,” they think of saying it to someone who looks kind of like me.

I’ve also always been a “brain.” I started reading early, and in kindergarten was assigned by the teacher to read to some kids while she dealt with the rest of the class. I was part of a gifted and talented program in elementary school. In high school, I was on our high school quiz show on statewide public television. Although I was one of four students, I personally scored 59% of our team’s total points through three rounds before being defeated.

(This might sound like bragging, but I’m trying to establish a context here. Trust me, I’m more than aware of my flaws, too.)

Now, with both size and brains on my side, I could have been quite the intimidating presence growing up. But I wasn’t, for two reasons. One was, I lacked (and still lack) a great deal in the social skills department. But the other was that I was far more interested in being liked than being respected or feared. And in that quest, I deliberately downplayed my strengths in a (ultimately futile) quest to fit in, find a niche, and be liked.

One of the worst consequence of that decision was that the traditional targets of abuse and bullying (the small, the weak, and the like) saw me as an easy target. They could salve their own wounds by abusing me. It made them feel bigger by making me feel smaller.

And they knew I wouldn’t hit back. I was the “big guy,” and any attempt to fight back would cast me as the bad guy, the bully, and I’d face the punishment. And since I was the “big guy,” I could obviously take it a lot better than the “little guys,” so the teachers and other authority figures didn’t take it as seriously.

On one or two occasions I didn’t just take it. I’d get fed up and lash back. One time I snapped, picked up one particularly annoying pipsqueak, and threw him over a snowbank. Even though this was after prolonged taunting and other phyical provocations, I was still punished for “picking on the little kid.”

It continues to this day. I deliberately keep myself from appearing intimidating. I clown around. I specialize in self-denigrating humor. Hell, I even let myself act physically intimidated by a woman I work with, even though I loom over her by a good eight inches and outweigh her by a factor of 2.5 or so.

I think that’s comparable to the Republicans in Washington. They spent decades as the minority party, never holding the reins unchallenged. They’ve always had a Democratic majority in at least one area (the House, the Senate, the Presidency), and have defined themselves as the underdogs, struggling against the established Democratic machine.

But no more. For years, nay decades, they’ve fought to win all three branches cited above. And now that they’ve finally achieved it, they don’t quite know how to act.

They do know a few things, though. They are used to being pushed around, and even though they resent it, it’s comfortable and they know how to deal with it. So they let the Democrats push them around.

And they remember what it’s like to be run roughshod over by a majority, and they damned sure don’t want to be seen as doing exactly the same thing that got them so outraged.

And the Democrats couldn’t be happier. They keep losing elections, but apparently that doesn’t matter. Their power is slightly diminished, but that just means that they can’t keep advancing their agenda. Instead, they can just keep stalling and blocking the Republicans from advancing theirs. Their plan seems to be to simply keep things as they are until they can regain dominance again. It’s the political version of World War I trench warfare, where the fighting keeps going on and on, but not much really changes.

The Republicans need to learn to be comfortable with their size — something I still don’t know how to do. They need to discover how to use their power and authority (granted by the voters in elections) without abusing it. They need to learn how to use their clout without abusing it.

Or they can get used to spinning their wheels and going nowhere, which will suit their opponents just fine. Because eventually those voters who gave them those majorities will get fed up with waiting and abandon them.

In fact, it’s starting already. I just hope it isn’t too late.

Today's language lesson
God's punishment for New England


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