The world is filled with republicans, that is, republicans with a lowercase “r” — they are the white-bread people. They make none of the art but buy most of it. They are those who never question socks, meatloaf or the existing world order. This has nothing to do with political parties. By my definition, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a republican. For that matter, so is Vladimir Putin.
They are the men in the blue suits who turn the world gray.
Those engaged in party politics cannot understand this. The current fight between “tax-and-spend liberals” and “fiscal conservatives” is only a parochial fight on a narrow issue between two groups that don’t really disagree much. It is like the vicious infighting between certain communist and socialist parties: They had rather kill their own over which end of the egg to crack.
Reid and Mitch McConnell agree on almost everything; they are both the progeny of Plato, Aquinas, Tom Paine, the French Revolution, Horatio Alger and Lucy Ricardo. They both wear suits and ties. To my knowledge, neither has ever worn a fez (with the possible exception of McConnell looking for votes at a Shriners’ convention).
And “convention” may be the operative word here. The horizon of the republican is very narrow, very conventional. Three squares a day, square rooms, square windows, square TV screens. From inside the culture, it can be very hard to see just how similar Reid and McConnell are. We all swim in our culture like fish unaware of the water.
But step outside and look back, and the squabbling becomes risible. Or tragic.
From our position outside, we look at all the factions that turned Beirut into a concrete Swiss cheese and wonder, how could they shoot at each other? Sunni and Shia? We sure can’t tell them all apart, even with the help of David Brooks and Mark Shields. Can’t they see how they are all so much the same?
But to a Maldive Islander, Reid in his suit is the twin of McConnell in his. They are both republicans.
That means they both tend to look at problems in the old ways, come up with old answers, even when dressing them in new words, and pretty much expect that the world they grew up in is the world they will send their grandchildren into. Good luck.
When you are interested only in answers, as politicians are, you tend not to notice that the questions change.
Republicans buy life insurance, sign on for gold cards, think there is a difference between Coke and Pepsi, flee to the suburbs, send their kids to preschool and eat one meat, one starch and one vegetable off round plates on a square table.
So when I hear a politician talking about “imaginative answers,” I break out laughing. He should better search for imaginative questions. The answers usually take care of themselves.
What the republican lacks is what I call a “lively mind,” that is, one that is eager for new experience, new ways of reassembling information, new ways of seeing old sights.
Why is the north on top in a map? Why not Antarctica? There is no reason but convention. The world looks very different upside down. Try it. Dick Cheney never has; you’d be one up on him.
Why are there four cardinal directions? Convention. I count seven: North, east, south, west, up, down and center — that inner direction.
Is there any difference at all between blue eye shadow and Sioux war paint? Between pierced ears and pierced nipples? Why does anyone think one form is acceptable and another barbarism? Convention.
Is the three-meal day a good one? Why are there seven days in a week? Oh, I know how it happened historically, and we can thank Babylon for it, but why not some other way? The French tried to change it once with a 10-hour day, a 10-day week and a 10-month year. Of course, the math didn’t work out for the “metric year,” but what the heck, it was a fun experiment.
The republicans say there is no virtue in being different just to be different. But I say there is. It is a sign of being alive.
Sideways thinking is the only thinking that can move forward. Everything else is a wheel stuck in a rut.
So, what are the men in the blue suits so afraid of?