Nebuchadnezzar’s Ankles

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What shall we call this age we’re living in? It isn’t the Era of Good Feeling, that’s for sure — though I hope it isn’t the Time Between the Wars, either. It isn’t a Renaissance of anything that I can see. It isn’t the Good Days of Don Porfirio, or the Days of Auld Lang Syne. It isn’t the Age of Gold or even the Age of Silver. Perhaps it’s the Age of Brass — in less poetic terms, the Age of Flat Assertions.

You hear these brassy assertions everywhere. “It’s for the children” — meaning that whatever “it” is, it has to be a good idea. “America needs more discussion about race” — as if Americans had been discussing anything else, for better or worse, these past 200 years. “Americans need to . . . “ you name it: sit less, run more, go to college, perform public service, share their thoughts, use their seat- belts, be rude to smokers, go and vote, sign this, meddle with that . . . Anything but ask themselves, “What does all this mean?”

Brassy assertiveness. You hear it in the president’s voice, in that characteristic way he has of coming down heavy at the end of a sentence. He increases his pace, even gets a little sing-songy, like a person who for some reason has to rehearse the details that everyone knows. But he puts on the emphasis, too, so you’ll understand that if you don’t already know this stuff, and don’t already agree with it, even with his most debatable statements . . . well, then, you certainly ought to agree.

Think of the way he says things like, “Healthcare reform is a job we’ve got to get done,” or, “This administration has created or preserved over 1 million jobs.” I can’t keep track of how many “millions” he’s put into that sentence at various times, but there’s no reason to: if he said “1 billion” he would read his lines in exactly the same way. He’d slow down pompously for the first few words, rolling “this administration” around like a pair of metaphysical bowling balls; then he’d go fast and hard on the “1 billion jobs” — the assertion to which he expected his audience to succumb immediately. It’s the same way with “healthcare reform is a job”: the first few syllables are portentous and rotund, but “we’ve got to get done” is treated as a given, as a thought so obvious that all the speaker needs to do is state it with the appropriate emphasis. No one will dare to say, “Who asked you?”

That’s brass.

We have a president with a brassy style. We have other politicians who are constructed wholly of brass. There’s no other explanation for Pelosi and Reid; they’re statues in a cemetery. And we have many crucial premises that we’re supposed to accept just because they’re brass.

One example is the premise, shared by everyone from the Democratic Left to the Republican Near-Right, that if there’s one change in the healthcare system that everyone in America positively demands and cannot live without, and properly so, it’s the idea that even if you already have some horrendously expensive disease, health insurance companies must still be required by the government to enroll you and pay for your treatment.

Now really — how brassy is that? No one would run a private business based on assumptions as strange as that one. It’s like saying that restaurants should be forbidden to charge anyone for food, unless they agree to give food away to everyone who is too poor to pay. (Yeah, it’s not exactly the same thing; the two cases are only similar, and that’s why I used the word like. It would be impossible to find something that’s exactly as erroneous as the assumptions on which healthcare “reform” is based, although astrology might come close.)

It’s obvious that if somebody with a $3-million illness has to be “insured,” no matter what, then the rest of us are going to pay for this “insurance.” One way is by being forced to buy insurance when you’re young and healthy. You don’t like the government’s forcing people to buy something, for the first time in American history? Neither do I. But please don’t complain to me about this, my Republican friends, if you simultaneously endorse the government’s authority to force insurance companies to “insure” the uninsurable. There are certain functions that brass can’t serve, and one of them is intelligent argument.

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