The Nation's Pulse

Status Quo Antebellum

Make way for Obama's little Robespierres.

By 3.25.09

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They tell a story about an old Jew who was living in Paris during the French Revolution. A friend of his from Poland came through for a visit and asked him if the unrest was affecting him personally. "Are you kidding? They are chopping people's heads off with the guillotine left and right!"

 "Are you afraid of becoming a target?"

"Nah. Who am I? A nobody."

"So how does the guillotine affect you personally?"

"Because I'm in the hat business."

Well, the French Revolution seems to be back with a vengeance. This weekend people went out to the homes of executives of the AIG insurance company to protest outside the gates, even leaving messages in the mailboxes (a Federal offense honored in the breach). Among the comments recorded by the press was one gentleman saying there were no such opulent homes in his neighborhood.

One lady said that returning their controversial bonuses is not enough, they should volunteer for additional taxation and the Lord will bless them. I suppose the same temperament which allows people to allot the assets of their fellow citizens allows them to distribute the Lord's blessings in accordance with their own dispositions. My own experience teaches restraint in the area of apportioning the Lord's bounty.

The larger point here is that we have lost sight of technical matters like correcting fiscal problems, we have even lost sight of volitional moral behavior such as giving to the needy, and we have surrendered to the dictatorial dialectic of equality at all costs. If we can't all be equally rich then, dammit, we should be equally poor. Let's chase those rich folk to their lairs and take from each according to his agility.

Granted it is poor practice to broadcast one's wealth in a parade of ostentation. The families which have maintained wealth over the span of multiple generations tend to adopt circumspection as a virtue. Certainly there are two breeds among the moneyed, those who avoid the public eye and those who pop it out of its socket. We might call them the Haves and the Have Snots. Still, the offense of the vulgar ones is aesthetic, not essential. If they got it and want to flaunt it, just turn the other cheek and look away.

This sort of peasants-at-the-gates revolution is scary on one side, but it is being mirrored on the right by the return of the American Revolution in the form of tea-party rallies. Four thousand people gathered in Fountain Square in Cincinnati (where I met Bob Dole, Colin Powell and Ted Koppel back in '96) a fortnight ago, and about five thousand came together in Orlando this past weekend. No Mickey Mouse crowd that. Some of your sleepily conservative homebody types are being roused by bad loans to high interest in first principles.

This excites folks in the reporting business, because this is the sort of fodder that pays allowance regularly. Covering demonstrations is always fun. The side you like you build up with clever quotes and camera angles that make the Chicago Nine look like the Million Man March. The side you disdain you zap with dumb quotes and pictures of three geeks holding pickets. That is how to give ordinary citizens a proper gander at what is going on out of eyeshot.

So will this all end in the streets? Has Obama pushed his revolt to the extreme point where it can only be decided in the gutter? Will the French Revolution square off against the American Revolution in our streets with the new government health-care squad standing by to do triage on the injured, and may the best-manned win? None of this bodes well for our future. We should have elected What's-his-name, the centrist reformist guy from Arizona. At least he believes wars are best fought outside our own streets.

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About the Author

Jay D. Homnick, commentator and humorist, is a frequent contributor to The American Spectator.