In 1948 an uncounted swarm of new voters voted for Republican presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey for one reason only. They’d never known anything but a Democratic administration, the one under four-times-elected Franklin D. Roosevelt! They voted Republican merely out of curiosity to see what a Republican administration was like. Their curiosity went unrequited. They had to wait until 1953!
(Who can forget the eighth-grader in 1944 who told his mother he’d have dinner in his room because the teacher wanted the class to get to a radio at 7 sharp to hear “the Presivelt speak”?)
Today some of the finest minds in America are urging a similar stampede to bring on sequestration. “At last the Republicans have traction.” “It’s Obama’s idea. Let him live with it.” “It’s meaningless. Sequestration bites only about 2 cents on the dollar.” “Call his bluff!” “Over we go!” “The government will actually grow!” “Expenses will rise, even with sequestration!” And besides, we’re curious. That’s what we’re hearing.
Without challenging a single fact in that collection, I see some danger in sequestration that’s getting zero attention.
Failure has a fragrance. The human nose can’t detect it, but the human brain knows all about it. That “fragrance” always leaks out, despite the most brutal attempts to spin it away. Ask any German if he believed the Nazi radio claims of huge victories after 1942. Ask anybody from Russia if he believed Radio Moscow’s boasts of bumper wheat crops, ever. Perception is a world power.
And those masses who make up that perception don’t have to know anything. The most football-illiterate person got the perception wafting out of New Orleans that the Ravens won. Nepalese shepherds perceive that Obama won, twice.
As we rode from Cairo airport to the hotel our guide pointed out a building he said was the “Museum of Victory.” Curiosity beat diplomacy; I had to ask what war that museum represented. “Why, the great victory over Israel in 1973,” he declared. Egypt did win the first round of that “Yom Kippur War,” but any military historian will testify that the ultimate Egyptian defeat was, if possible, worse than that of the “Six-Day War” of 1967. Yet Egypt tried to reverse the fragrance. And the world laughed.
This is Human Nature 101. An old friend called me from down home and told me that, despite a pretty good life that included a house with six tennis courts, his wife wanted out. “But everything’s fine,” he maintained, trying to conceal his broken heart. “We’re still friends, and I talked with her just 15 minutes ago!”
In other words, “Everything’s fine!” was his message. The fragrance-of-failure had an easy time with that one. It also had an easy time in the early 1960s when a Broadway play with Don Ameche, “Thirteen Daughters,” closed after three weeks. Except for that famous play that closed after one act, you can’t fail much worse than that. Nevertheless, the producers proudly announced they’d “completed” their Broadway run and were now taking the show on the road. Columnist Dorothy Kilgallen would have none of it and turned that whole turkey into a smoking crater! Failure doesn’t always leak. Sometimes it pours!
Italy entered World War II as Hitler’s ally in 1939. One day in 1943 Italy was our enemy. The next day Italy was neutral and the next day, our ally. Can you believe you can still find patriotic Italians who claim that “Italy won the war”?
The danger in sequestration is that so few people, Americans included, have the foggiest notion of what it’s all about; that this time, perception is up for grabs! But who’s going to grab, and how?
The world looks down on America with the utmost envy. America has been so exceptional and so successful for so long, the world – including less-successful Americans – are a little tired of it. And in the great arena of international jealousy, it isn’t what is. It’s what your enemies can make of what is.
I can hear it now, all over the world. “Papa, what is this ‘sequester’ thing in America?” “Well, Paolo, “It’s a kind of bankruptcy, something like we had right after the war.”
Our fourth-grade teacher, Miss Hobbs, was so proud when she taught us that our North Carolina state motto was, in Latin, “Esse Quam Videre” which means “To Be, Rather Than To Seem.”
North Carolina sure blew that one. Oh, it’s altogether virtuous, but the world has decided it’s backwards. The world says, “Seeming Is Everything!”
And in the hands of the world at large, America will not likely “seem” like a boxer still standing, even though America’s so-called “fiscal nightmare” would be a pleasant dream for the overwhelming majority of mankind.
Many loved Elizabeth Taylor when she was young and beautiful and a superstar.
Everybody loved Elizabeth Taylor when she was in a London hospital in 1961 with tubes sticking out of her throat and no guarantee she’d make it through the night.