Monday, October 31, 2011

Of stories and narratives, mice and men

James Taranto in Best of the Web notes:

Drew Westen is back. He's the psychologist and political consultant who wrote a ridiculous but revealing New York Times op-ed back in August faulting President Obama for failing to tell "a story" that would comfort "scared and angry" Americans by assuring them that the president would heroically vanquish "bad guys."

It's taken me a while, but I finally realized what story it is that Westen wanted Obama to tell us:

George's voice became deeper. He repeated his words rhythmically as though he had said them many times before. "Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don't belong no place. They come to a ranch an' work up a stake and then they go inta town and blow their stake, and the first thing you know they're poundin' their tail on some other ranch. They ain't got nothing to look ahead to."

Lennie was delighted. "That's it - that's it. Now tell how it is with us."

George went on. " With us it ain't like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don't have to sit in no bar room blowin' in our jack jus' because we got no place else to go. If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anybody gives a damn. But not us."

Lennie broke in. "But not us! An' why? Because .... because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that's why." He laughed delightedly. "Go on now, George."

"You got it by heart. You can do it yourself."

"No, you. I forget some a' the things. Tell about how it's gonna be."

"O.K. Some day - we're gonna get the jack together and we're gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an' a cow and some pigs and ---"

"An' live off the fatta the lan'," Lennie shouted. "An' have rabbits. Go on, George! Tell about what we're gonna have in the garden and about the rabbits in the cages and about the rain in the winter and the stove, and how thick the cream is on the milk like you can hardly cut it. Tell about that, George."

"Why'n't you do it yourself. You know all of it."

"No.... you tell it. It ain't the same if I tell it. Go on..... George. How I get to tend the rabbits."

"Well," said George. "We'll have a big vegetable patch and a rabbit-hutch and chickens. And when it rains in the winter, we'll just say the hell with goin' to work, and we'll build up a fire in the stove and set around it an' listen to the rain comin' down on the roof...."

The problem is that Westen and the Democrats forgot that Lennie could tell the story as good as George could, so when they heard Obama telling it back in 2004 at the DNC, they thought that Obama was George. What they are just now realizing is that THEY are George, and Obama is Lennie. See if this doesn't sound like the Democrats' current lament about their President:

"There's enough beans for four men," George said.

Lennie watched him from over the fire. He said patiently, "I like 'em with ketchup."

"Well, we ain't got any," George exploded. "Whatever we ain't got, that's what you want. God a'mighty, if I was alone I could live so easy. I could go get a job an' work an' no trouble. No mess at all, and when the end of the month come I could take my fifty bucks and go into town and get whatever I want. Why, I could stay in a cat house all night, I could eat any damn place I want, hotel or any place, and order any damn thing I could think of. An' I could do all that every damn month.. Get a gallon of whisky, or set in a pool room and play cards or shoot pool." Lennie knelt and looked over the fire at the angry George. And Lennie's face was drawn with terror. "An' whatta I got?" George went on furiously. " I got you! You can't keep a job and you lose me ever' job I get. Jus' keep me shovin' all over the country all the time. An' that ain't the worst. You get in trouble. You do bad things and I got to get you out." His voice rose nearly to a shout. "You crazy son-of-a-bitch. You keep me in hot water all the time." He took on the elaborate manner of little girls when they are mimicking one another. "Jus' wanted to feel that little girl's dress - jus' wanted to pet it like it was a mouse -- Well, how the hell did she know you jus' wanted to feel her dress? She jerks back and you hold on like it was a mouse. She yells and we got to hide in a irrigation ditch all day with guys lookin' for us, and we got to sneak out in the dark and get outta the country. All the time somethin' like that - all the time. I wisht I could put you in a cage with about a million mice and let you have fun."

But the Democrats can no more walk away from their Lennie than George could from his. In the end, George showed Lennie mercy, but the Democrats can't even do that, though in their case they'd only need to remove Obama's name from nomination rather than use George's drastic measure.

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