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Robert Brustein

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Return of the Booboisie

Posted: 10/04/2013 11:38 am

"Absolute reason expired at eleven o'clock last night," a character shouts in the mad scene from Ibsen's Peer Gynt. That certainly seems to describe the mental condition of present-day America. A group of lunatics, self-named after Boston's Tea Party, but actually descended from the Mad Hatter's Tea Party in Alice in Wonderland, have shut down the United States government because they don't like a health bill already approved by both houses of Congress and sanctioned by the Supreme Court.

Everyone is puzzling over how a small minority of fanatics have managed to exercise such power over the entire Republican Party, not to mention the nation as a whole. But from the suppressed terror on John Boehner's straight face every time he emerges from a meeting to make a statement, the Tea Party clearly feels it has been authorized to do a lot of harm to anyone who crosses it.

And what accounts for this extraordinary confidence? Regardless of justified complaints about gerrymandering, the Tea Party clearly has the backing of a significant number of people in this country. Certainly, new voting laws have delivered electoral power over to people who otherwise would have less voice in deciding its fate. But I don't think that is the whole story. From the relative absence of national outrage (apart from Democratic fundraisers) over this usurpation of power, and how it has been injuring our country in the last few weeks, one has to conclude that vast numbers of Americans have either become indifferent to the fate of their nation or fail to understand the enormity of the crisis.

H.L. Mencken used to rail again what he called the "boobocracy" of America, meaning a system accountable to majorities with little culture, humanity, or intelligence. I think it is time to haul this phrase out of the attic where it has been collecting dust for the past seventy years or so, and apply it to our current political condition. We are still a nation of boobs, and the boobs we have elected to lead us into a totally unnecessary government shutdown are a perfect example of how a failure of education and culture can turn a democracy into a boobocracy.

 
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