Chucking the Baggage

Senator Schumer's suitcase is empty, give or take a few breakfast cereal boxes.

By 4.19.10

The philosopher Santayana said, "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." By a fascinating coincidence, the same quote is attributed to Santa Anita, or at least to a grizzled old tout who made book there. Santa Anna, on the other hand, noted: "Those who do not learn from repeating are doomed to be history." Or something like that; after all, the man was President of Mexico seven different times. (What do you expect from a guy who thinks Lopez is a first name and Anna is a surname?)

In the case of the ubiquitously obstreperous Senator Charles Schumer, we not only fail to learn from his history, we tend to forget it completely. Noting this phenomenon, he has chosen to revive a favored strategy which served him well in his early career.

Here is what he did back in the day. He was a nobody Congressman from Brooklyn , who won his seat by manipulating naïve Orthodox Jews (a story for another day) into thinking him a kindred spirit. This was in a district he had personally created for himself when he was a State Senator in Albany, New York, during the redistricting after the 1980 census, effectively sabotaging the career of Stephen Solarz in the process.

But being another Jewish lib from Brooklyn is not a pathway to the United States Senate, especially with a whiny voice about halfway between Joy Behar and Fran Drescher. He had to find a way to be seen as a national figure.

His first try was with gun control. He made a raucous ruckus for the cuckoo caucus, haranguing anyone with a camera or a microphone about the Right who bear arms, which he was ready to amend in a second. This succeeded only in gaining him notoriety, trapping him further in the urban liberal mold and making it less likely that upstate New York voters would find him disarming… er, in a good way. Then -- give the devil his due -- he came up with a stroke of genius. He would make sure they new his name and rank by giving them cereal numbers.

Yes, cereal. A corny idea, flaky, fruity, loopy, yet inspired. Schumer realized that big subjects like gun control are too diffuse to be associated with one individual, plus they have entrenched opposition. A small issue that affects everybody in a small way gains nationwide attention, is credited exclusively to the initiator (or instigator), and faces no scary enemies. Before long he was everywhere in media, posing frowningly with Cheerios and Wheaties, promoting his study that showed a 90 percent surge in the price of breakfast over a short period.

Trix of this sort are not for kids, apparently, and as embarrassingly absurd as this is to report, Chuck Schumer was catapulted into national prominence and power by sending in three box tops and a self-addressed stamped envelope.

Fast forward to 2010 with Democrats in bad odor after passing an unpopular health-care bill. The country is raging at the machine, at the establishment, at the vast impersonal megalith that petrifies all the mobile energies in our population. People feel Big Brother is not only watching you, he is taking your temperature and depressing your tongue. If Mister Big is out, reasons Chuck, it is time to revisit Mister Small.

His target this time is the airlines, notably Spirit and its $45 dollar fee newly imposed to cover their overhead; that is to say, if you want your carry-on bag to occupy space in the storage bin you will have to pay rent. Schumer is circulating the political and journalistic world decrying this slap in the face of the innocent traveler. This must be resisted at all costs, by legislation if necessary.

His complaint is utterly without substance. The airline is not really charging some people for space. The total price, including storage, is the true value of the ticket. What they are really offering is a discount to those who are prepared to cede this benefit. Say you are prepared to pay $150 for a ticket for you and the bag, and they ask for $105 for the seat and $45 for the bag. You lose nothing. If they ask $150 for the seat and $45 for the bag, you leave the bag or you buy a ticket from the competitor. At the end of the day, people will decide based on the total package. And your airline passenger is someone who plans carefully and does not overlook details.

Being wrong never fazes Schumer; this is his natural habitat and comfort zone. What counts is political effectiveness and to here he has a proven winner. So he is content to let Barack Obama go big and take the heat while he goes small and is seen as cool. Like the joke about the guy who explains the division of authority in his home, where his wife makes the small decisions and he makes the big ones.

"For example, what house to buy and what car to get, small material things like that, is her department. I am in charge of the big stuff, like global warming and world hunger…"

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About the Author

Jay D. Homnick, commentator and humorist, is deputy editor of The American Spectator.