Last night I saw Lester Maddox on a TV show
With some smart-ass New York Jew.
And the Jew laughed at Lester Maddox
And the audience laughed at Lester Maddox, too.
Well, he may be a fool but he’s our fool,
If they think they’re better than him they’re wrong.
So I went to the park and I took some paper along,
And that’s where I made this song.
—Randy Newman, “Rednecks”
Lester Maddox, the segregationist governor of Georgia in the late 1960s, is 10 years dead, while Randy Newman has gone on to write a string of award-winning scores for films like Monsters University. Although “Rednecks” was recorded in 1968, the song plays in my head whenever I read about Mike Lee and Ted Cruz. Both senators are fools. But Lee is our fool. He is our man in Washington. When he embarrasses himself by spouting foolishness—as he does at every opportunity—he also embarrasses Utahns of every stripe. I resent the smear of embarrassment-by-association. I don’t give a damn about Cruz. He’s from somewhere else, and so I can simply ignore his blather, as I would one of those wild-eyed guys who talks to himself on a downtown sidewalk.
I don’t consider myself better than Lee, but his foolishness does make me angry. Fueling that anger is the frustration that there is nothing I can do to put an end to it. Lee is a fool with impunity. To suffer such fools gladly is less and less an option for me. I used to be more tolerant, but my better nature has been overwhelmed by an onslaught of fools, hypocrites, bigots and egotists. The barbarians are at the gates, shouting like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. I am besieged. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune rain down on me, as they did on poor Hamlet. He became distraught. I have become grumpy—or so my wife complains.
I don’t deny it. I admit to talking back to the television set when newscasters trample my journalistic sensibilities. I admit to gesturing in the crosswalk at 2100 South and 1300 East as scores of drivers run the red light. I admit to sending the Utah State Tax Commission a registered letter accusing it of incompetence. I admit to writing sentences that pair “sleazy” and “John Swallow”; “Keystone Kops” and “West Valley Police”; “pandering” and “Orrin Hatch.” And, yes, I have also made unflattering remarks about Jim Matheson, Jason Chaffetz and Chris Stewart. Worst of all, I admit to schadenfreude in the case of Clark Aposhian, Utah’s leading gun proponent, who has to relinquish his 300-gun arsenal while a domestic-violence charge is adjudicated.
Grumpy is as grumpy does. It builds up, as does arsenic when taken by the teaspoon. Grumpiness has no redeeming social value. Nevertheless, I wonder why everyone else isn’t as disaffected as I. In particular, the 58 million Millennials puzzle me. With an inheritance of debt, climate change, Islamist terror and dysfunctional government, they ought to be in the streets, wearing Howard Beale T-shirts and chanting, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore.” That they are not is baffling.
I take my wife’s complaint of chronic grumpiness to heart. Only Br’er Rabbit wants to spend his days in the briar patch. I mull over my options. There aren’t many. I could learn to be Mister Teflon instead of Mister Velcro, or I might “have a conversation,” a dodge from the Washington playbook. Having a conversation is a strategy whereby you appear to be doing something when you are actually doing nothing. “Conversation” has supplanted “blue-ribbon panel” or “presidential commission” because it costs no money and produces no results. I don’t know about you, but I am bone-weary of open-ended conversations about gun control, race relations, immigration, income inequality, tax reform—the no man’s land separating me and mine from Mike Lee and his.
I’m always surprised how many people take his side. Last week’s KSL/Deseret News poll found that Lee has a 43 percent approval rating. The number seems high, but I presume it includes those patriots who buy AR-15s to protect themselves when truckloads of jack-booted federal troops come rolling down Parley’s Canyon.
In the biographical sketch on his website, Lee credits himself with having “sound judgment” and a “thorough understanding of the Constitution.” As Ted Cruz’s horse-holder, Lee’s role in the current crisis in government belies both claims. My take on the Constitution is that senators are supposed to be deliberative, to govern by compromise and to accede to the will of the majority. For Lee, leading a foredoomed, take-no-prisoners guerrilla campaign against 2010’s Affordable Care Act may get his cherubic face on Fox News, but for me, you and everybody else, no benefit accrues.
A week before Cruz’s and Lee’s machinations shut down the federal government, I was standing in line at the Sugar House post office. Two windows were manned by postal clerks. The line was longer than usual because a woman blocked one of the windows as she packed, taped and addressed a box of stuff. Ten or 15 people were inconvenienced by her thoughtlessness, and she didn’t care a whit. So it is with Mike Lee and his ilk. They blithely pursue their own personal interests while the rest of us—constituents all—stand and wait and fume.