Friday, December 17, 2010

Scylla and Charybdis--and the Democrats

So they have passed The Bill.  the compromise that, depending on who you listen to, really was or wasn't a compromise.  progressives are vehemently divided on this point, within and outside of the Democratic Party.  the one clear thing that  is that no progressive liked it. even obama, who has proven himself far from progressive, didn't like it.  but with the recent elections, the Democrats were trapped between two awful choices, so obama and most of the congressional democrats went with what they felt was the least awful one.  scylla and charybdis.

interesting story, the original s&c.  as the Odyssey tells it, in order to get home to Ithaca, Odysseus and his crew had to go past one or the other.  Scylla was a multiheaded monster who swallowed up all who came close to her; Charybdis was a giant whirlpool.  Scylla would kill six men, one per head.  Charybdis would kill them all.  Odysseus chose the lesser horror.  end of story.

but not quite.  there was a third option, about which Odysseus lied.  "Of Scylla I said nothing," Odysseus narrates, "lest my friends, held fast by fear, desert their oars and cringe down in the hold."
in fact, his "friends"--the sailors he commanded--would likely have done more than that.  they were leaving a paradise,  ruled by the beautiful demigoddess Circe, who would have been perfectly willing to have them stay.  It was 20 years since the men had left Ithaca; some, maybe all, might have preferred to stay on the goddess's island rather than risk a terrible death on the hope of getting home.  So Odysseus lied to them, and in the end, after many more deadly adventures, all but he himself died.

So now, we have a Democrat who, during two years of an administration, has clung to his
precious but peculiar goal of 'compromise'  with an enemy no more interested in compromise than Scylla or Charybdis.  he betrayed a constituency that had believed in his rhetoric of change.  doubtless he was fooling himself as well as us, making him perhaps less culpable but also less shrewd than Odysseus. and no less dangerous to the people that followed him.  he ended up with a new mega-conservative majority in Congress.  he still bleats his favorite word, 'compromise,' as though the situation he helped create will somehow make the conservatives more, rather than less, willing to negotiate. his scylla will swallow up her fewer victims, leaving a few temporarily better off.  in the long run, i very much fear we'll end up with Charybdis after all.


compromise makes strange bedfellows.  let me be clear; i believe in getting rid of the pernicious 'don't ask don't tell' policy, for the obvious reason that it is a result of bigotry.  it has to go.  but there is something odd about fighting to get more people in the military, so they can risk their own lives and very likely kill other people in a war that two presidents have foisted on us.  leftists of my generation spent a lot of time marching against the war of our youth, encouraging young men to avoid the draft in whatever ways they could. in stirring demonstrations, some of the bravest [or most reckless] among these men publicly  burned their draft cards. These soldiers of anti-battle  helped pave the way for the elimination of draft cards and of the draft itself.  Remember 'what if they gave a war and no one came?'?  i have recently made contact, after many years, with a friend i last saw when some of us visited him in canada, where he had fled and where he happily remains.  some straight guys pretended to be gay in order to get that coveted 4F--the category for draft-age men whose health or other factors caused the military to reject them.  some stayed underground in the US. some went to jail.

there's  no more draft, but there are two grim wars with countries that the US invaded.  and now we find ourselves in the absurd but necessary position of protesting the wars while trying to enable more soldiers to fight in them.  so what would i say to a young gay or lesbian fighting to fight?  passionately i would support them: you have every right to be an army along with straight people.  passionately i would then add, but for god's sake, don't do it!

dear old sylla! dear old charybdis!  dear old dying, disintegrating planet!


Ken Goldstein said...

Interesting analogy, but I'm not quite sure we were on the goddesses island... not that I think this "compromise" was anything like an even trade.

But, agreed on what an irony it is that we are struggling to allow more would-be soldiers to fight two immoral wars.

karen lindsey said...

well, you're right that we aren't on the goddess's island! but we were presented with 2 untenable possibilities, when there were other choices possible if we'd been given the facts....