What you are about to watch is a nightmare. It is not meant to be prophetic, it need not happen, it’s the fervent and urgent prayer of all men of good will that it never shall happen. But in this place, in this moment, it does happen. This is the Twilight Zone.
It’s the early 1960’s.
Bill Stockton and his wife Grace are having a few people over.
It’s a typical evening in Leave It To Beaver Land.
It’s not a party party, it’s a cocktail party – the kind of thing that white people back then thought other white people did once or twice a month. It’s like something you’d seen in a 1950’s cigarette commercial or on the back cover of the Betty Crocker cookbook.
They’re all good friends, this gathering. They’d do anything for each other. They grew up together, went to school together, go to the same church, live in the same neighborhood. Some of them are relatives, like Bill’s brother-in-law, Frank, who is married to Grace’s unnamed sister. Bill himself is a doctor, he delivered their children and treats their families when they get sick. Everybody is happy and courteous and friendly.
Talk eventually turns to Bill’s hobby.
It seems Bill Stockton spends his evenings working on a basement fallout shelter, which is not a particularly odd thing to do given the state of their world, but unusual enough that his guests have a good chuckle at his expense. They, of course, have done nothing to prepare for a future that they all expect to fall from the sky any day now – other than throw dinner parties and stand around smoking Pall Malls while talking about the evil commies who want their stuff. Everybody is worried about the future, but they think Bill’s solution, while obviously a pragmatic acceptance of the world as it exists, is nevertheless foolish and they chide him for wasting money that they think could be better spent elsewhere (presumably on more dinner parties and cartons of cigarettes ).
Except, just then, the radio announces unidentified objects headed towards America from low earth orbit!
Of course, it can only be the long feared communists, the bastards are finally making their move!
Atomic devastation is only moments away. Panic ensues. Bill tells his friends to go home and seek shelter. But there’s no time. So instead they want Bill to take them into his shelter. Bill points out that the shelter can only hold three, there is only enough food and air for him, Grace, and their young son. It’s simply not practical or even feasible to try and put everybody into the refuge, in fact trying to do so will certainly kill them all from suffocation even if the Soviet missiles don’t get them.
Of course Bill’s friends should have planned ahead, they should have prepared for the coming crisis (or maybe elected those who would have avoided it altogether, but I digress). Instead they now face a disaster of their own making. Bill offers his basement as a refuge to his friends and relatives, saying that he’ll do the best he can for them after the initial attack is over but he’s got to do what’s right for his own wife and son. Bill’s friends will have none of it, of course, and accuse him of lying and much, much worse.
Reason is stripped away and replaced with rage and panicked desperation.
Bill and his immediate family retreat to the shelter and lock themselves in.
His friends are incensed.
Led by Frank, they attempt to batter down the shelter’s door and, as tensions swiftly mount, it’s obvious that somebody is going to die…
Ever spend an entire Saturday in your sweats, parked on the couch watching a Twilight Zone marathon?
No? That’s too bad, because it was a great show. The entire series was just released on high definition DVD, if you’re looking to get me a Christmas present, that would be a good place to start.
Now, for those of you who don’t recognize the description above, it’s from the episode entitled The Shelter, which first aired in 1961. The Shelter was written by Rod Serling himself and was one of only four episodes without any science fiction or fantasy elements. Instead it was based entirely on the very real events and common fears of the time – which is what makes it such a memorable and terrifying story.
What brings this up?
Well, you know, sometimes I wonder if we’re not living in a Twilight Zone episode of our own.
The Republican Party has now surrendered its principles and is in full retreat!
So laments rightwing activist and conservative fundraiser Brent Bozell. Last month Bozell warned conservatives that he would aggressively punish any republican who has the temerity to put the good of the nation over loyalty to the Republican Party and the puppet masters who control it.
Bozell, along with the usual motley cast of conservative hardliners, party hacks, flacks, and the fearful rich, are incensed by Speaker of the House John Boehner’s counter proposal to President Obama regarding a way to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff:
Should America assume that Representative John Boehner et. al. have been misleading the country for more than two years now? It would appear so. It would be impossible to count the times and ways Boehner, Cantor, McCarthy and so many others have told America that tax hikes would kill jobs and cripple the economy. Lo and behold, that’s just what they’ve proposed, $800 billion of them.
Just like guests at Bill Stockton’s tea party, conservatives have spent the last four years standing around smoking and scaring the hell out of each other with fevered rumors of some imagined communist invasion. And now that the crisis they helped create is here, well, they’re banging on the door in panic and clamoring for the head of the only guy in their party pragmatic enough to acknowledge reality.
Bozell wants to make good on his threat to terminate any conservative who dares think about raising taxes on the wealthy.
All the party organs should be cut off [from party funding]. The only people who should be funded are those conservatives who don't break their word, and the primary opponents of the ones who do.
You’ve got to boggle at hardliners like Brent Bozell and Grover Norquist.
To them, the world is strictly black and white.
There’s us and them and nothing in between.
That’s how it is, and that’s how it will always be.
Their limited worldview allows for no deviation, no acknowledgement of the fluid and dynamic and changing nature of reality. They extracted a promise from republicans two, five, ten, fifteen years ago – and they intend to stick to it no matter how conditions change around them.
It’s one thing to promise not to raise taxes at the end of the Clinton administration, with a budget surplus in the bank. It’s another thing entirely to hold to that position after ten years of war bought on credit and an economic collapse brought to you by Bozell’s contributors, a bunch of staggeringly rich Wall Street types who no matter how rich they get are somehow never rich enough – all of which has left the country deep in the red.
Conservative economic logic says that if taxes on the wealthy and businesses are kept low then they’ll create jobs in return, which in turn will create more of the middle class, who can then be taxed to make up the difference in revenue.
In other words, we shouldn’t tax (rich) people more, we should have more (poor)people pay taxes.
This sounds workable in theory.
And it is, sort of, as far as it goes.
Especially if you convince people that a whole bunch of parasites are sucking off the system at the expense of the middle class and that keeping taxes low on the wealthy will somehow, magically, make these alleged lazy people suddenly get off their duffs and dance. The way to sell it is to convince people that taxes stay low for everybody as long as there are lots of people paying taxes.
And again, this sounds workable in theory.
There’s just one problem with that.
In reality, it doesn’t actually work.
And it sure as hell hasn’t for the last two decades, Q.E.D.
The only way this works is if everybody plays by the same rules. What happens in reality is that businesses and the rich end up with all the power, then they find ways to maximize their profits and minimize the amount of taxes they pay – and they do that by paying off politicians to create loopholes in the tax and business codes which then allows them to ship jobs overseas, avoid paying living wages and reasonable benefits to the poor and middleclass, and in some cases avoid paying taxes themselves altogether.
And they do it through people just like Brent Bozell.
Bozell damned well knows this, he goes on to say:
They aren’t taxes, no siree. They are ‘revenue,’ and ‘loopholes’ that are closed – which also begs the question: if these are loopholes, why were they open? Closing loopholes is always a malarkey adventure. If Loopholes are open, why didn’t they close them before?
They didn’t close them before because the people Bozell gets his money from don’t want them closed.
And in fact, they paid good money to have them created in the first place.
And that’s the truly ironic part, right there.
Because if they don’t compromise, if they don’t allow John Boehner room to maneuver, if they don’t accept some increase, then the very crisis that they themselves created will bring down their pet Speaker and automatically raise their taxes anyway in a deal that they themselves also created.
See, the problem with taking hostages and threatening to shoot them is this: hostages are only a bargaining chip if the opposition doesn’t shoot them first.
Conservatives created this crisis – or the wealthy puppet masters behind the GOP did anyway, through tools just like Brent Bozell and Grover Norquist.
Conservatives created the fiscal cliff. They created it when they placed non-binding promises to lobbyists like Norquist and Bozell above their sworn legal obligation to their constituents.
They created it when they placed the staggering avarice of a greedy few above the nation itself.
They created it when they failed to do the job they were elected to do, when they obstructed every option, when they refused to compromise, when they decided to make Obama “a one term president” instead of acknowledging the will of the people they claim to represent.
They created it when they placed politics above pragmatism.
People like John Boehner created this false crisis.
People like John Boehner created this climate of fear and hatred and now they’ll have to reap the bitter harvest that they’ve sown.
See, for certain folks, the path to power is through fear. Fear of secret communists and imaginary Nazis, fear of usurpers, fear of government, fear of the other, fear of minorities, fear of invasion, fear of aliens, fear of the different, fear of war, fear of peace, fear of science, fear of God and some ridiculous made-up bullshit nonsense about an anti-Christ, fear of the dirty unwashed, fear of the poor, fear of the hungry, fear of death, fear of lost status and power, fear of decline and emasculation, fear of the end of the world.
They fan the flames of fear – and then have the gall to act surprised when the fearful flock to their beacon.
And they feed on each other, amplifying the fear until it is all consuming.
They do it because it’s easy.
It’s far easier to make people afraid than it is to give them hope, to inspire, to lead.
Fear is always easier.
But the problem, you see, is this: power built on fear makes for a precarious perch.
People like John Boehner created this crisis by turning President Obama into a fanatical Whitey-hatin’ Anti-American Black Power Christian Muslim Kenyan Nazi Socialist Communist Baby Killing Satanic Gay Cannibal Demon who wields the Magic Negro Ray of Planet Destroying Doom.
People just like John Boehner created such a fantastical bogeyman that there is now no way, no way, for them compromise with that same bogeyman without admitting that they were wrong, that they just made it all up, that they were just using the stupid and the ignorant and the fearful to bolster their own power.
In order to avert a disaster of their own making, they must now meet the newly reelected president at least halfway.
And that’s the one thing they simply cannot do, because for them, for the simpleminded that they’ve made fearful, that’s a deal with the Devil.
They are almost literally hoist on their own petard.
They cannot admit error, because the belief system they created doesn’t admit error.
No more so than Harold Camping could admit that his prophesies of the pending rapture were just so much crazy fearful bullshit that he himself just completely made up to scare people into giving him money. Just like the TV evangelists keep predicting their own End Times so the gullible and the fearfully ignorant will send them a check. Just like the psychics and gleeful doomsayers predicting the end of the world later this month. Just like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and Chuck Norris and Ted Nugent and Hank Williams Jr. and all the rest of them.
Ask yourself this, when was the last time you heard any of these people speak of anything but fear?
When have they ever been anything but afraid?
Sarah Palin yesterday on Fox News is a perfect example:
Well, I guess I shouldn’t call politicians names, so I apologize for calling the wobbly ones wusses. Because that distracts from the point that has to be made and the point is that we are a bankrupt country. So I say, Republicans, go back to what the planks in your platform represent. It represents reining in government, putting back the power and the responsibility in the individual, not in the state, not in government. Again, that gets us towards socialism. What goes beyond socialism … is communism! I know I’m going to get slammed for speaking so bluntly about what’s going on here, but that’s exactly what is going on. A very scary proposal was recently revealed by [Treasury Secretary] Geithner essentially saying, ‘Let the president have free rein on raising the debt ceiling to whatever level he wants it.’ That’s a very scary thought because Barack Obama is a socialist.
Socialists! Communists! Federal Reserve! Oh noes! It’s scary!
These people created this crisis, they created it out of fear with malice aforethought, and in their fear they unleashed the ravenous cannibal horde and now any conservative who breaks ranks will be ripped to bloody gobbets.
The monster they themselves created will eat them alive and screaming.
Of course, anybody who’s ever seen The Twilight Zone could have told them how this was going to work out.
You see, at the end of The Shelter, Frank and the mob break down the fallout shelter door with an improvised battering ram and just as they are about to kill Bill Stockton and take his refuge for themselves (which is now doorless and therefor no shelter at all), the radio announces that it had all been a false alarm.
The incoming objects were just harmless satellites.
The communists weren’t invading after all.
The world wasn’t about to end.
There never was any real danger, the entire thing was a big mistake created entirely from blind panic and irrational fear.
Chagrined and embarrassed by their behavior, Bill’s neighbors and friends apologize.
One by one they leave the basement and return to their homes.
The day after, well, you know they will try to act like nothing happened, but Bill Stockton is left to wonder if they haven’t all already destroyed themselves anyway.
No moral, no message, no prophetic tract, just a simple statement of fact: for civilization to survive, the human race has to remain civilized. Tonight's very small exercise in logic from the Twilight Zone