It was a book for young boys entitled something like “Jack Armstrong and the Mystery Eye.” Jack Armstrong was American, but he spent time in India where Hindu masters with supernatural powers taught him some pretty remarkable things.
One was how to stand, frown, hold both your palms out – and stop everything from a leopard, a lion, a puma, an elephant to a truck, train or a bullet dead in its tracks. It was something about drawing power from nature itself; from the center of the earth.
I thought of that book, which seized my boyhood imagination and held it hostage, that Tuesday night of Scott Brown’s surprise victory in Massachusetts. My political fellows who rejoiced in that upset were worried Brown would not be certified or seated until the Obamacare health bill had been jack-hammered through, and the Democratic leadership would do all kinds of things to muscle their agenda across regardless of the message from Massachusetts.
“No, they won’t,” I told them. “Whaddaya mean, they won’t?” came the belligerent reply. “They can’t,” said I. “Of course, they can!” they counter-railed. “Obama! Rahm Emanuel! They don’t give a damn about any vote. They’ll stop at nothing. They own the baloney and they’ll slice it any way they please.” “No,” I repeated. “They can’t, and they won’t.” It was the most important political argument I’d stumbled into in a long time, and it was exceedingly pleasant being on the winning side.
The next day President Obama himself appeared on TV and said, “There must be no vote on health-care reform until Senator-elect Brown is seated.” Was that a gesture of political elegance, good sportsmanship, doing what you “had ought” to do? Hardly. Those leopards and elephants and trains and bullets in that kids’ novel I read at the age of 9 didn’t stop cold because of Jack Armstrong’s frown. It was the power from the center of the earth, the force of nature itself.
Political sermons can be as annoying as any of those by long-winded preachers, priests, rabbis or imams, so I’ll keep this brief and blunt. Democracy is much more than a feel-good political decoration. There is a heartening power in the freely expressed will of a free people. Do you remember those toy magnets you got from Aunt Hilda at about the same age I was when I read about Jack Armstrong? They were great at picking up nails and needles and paper clips, but they were utterly powerless on Mama’s pots and pans. Magnets only work on ferrous metals, iron or iron-alloy metals. A magnet strong enough to pull Aunt Hilda’s hairpins right out of her hair from across a big room would make an aluminum pot yawn and not even notice.
People in dictatorships get no protection, personal or governmental, from any “will of the people.” The will of the people couldn’t save a single Jew in Nazi Germany, a single successful peasant in Communist Russia, a single intellectual in Mussolini’s Italy, a single merchant forced to raise prices in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, a single poet in Castro’s Cuba, a single free-thinker in Kim’s North Korea, and so on throughout the dreary turf of the totalitarian. The magnificent magnetism of the people’s will works only in democracies.
Politicians in a democracy are disc jockeys. They play the tunes with the most requests. Otherwise we change disc jockeys.
If Nazi Germany had been a democracy and Hitler insulted the Jews, the sharp elbows of Goebbels, Goering, Himmler, Hess and the boys would have jabbed the Fuehrer in the ribs and said, “Shut up, Adolf. Those Jews vote in greater numbers than any other group. Congratulate them on their contributions to science, medicine, literature, commerce and philanthropy, and if it’s getting close to sundown on a Friday, Adolf, wish them a ‘Good Shabbos!'”
You’ve heard the failed storyteller, following the post-anecdote hush, say, “Well, maybe you just had to be there.” I don’t think you had to be there to get this one: It was the major university in the capital of a Communist country during the Cold War. A visiting American had just lectured a political science class, and the Communist professor had a needle ready for him.
“You speak so proudly of your ‘two-party system,'” he said. “Both of your American parties favor free enterprise. Both favor a strong Pentagon. Both favor Social Security and certain subsidies and entitlement programs. Tell me, sir, what is the difference between your two American political parties?”
“Comrade,” replied the American, “The difference is, one party’s in and the other one’s out. And the party that’s out has not just the opportunity but the obligation to find fault with the party that’s in.”
The Founding Fathers may not have had Hindu masters, but they sure learned how to harness power, if not from the forces of nature, then from the forces of human nature.