Where's the Fire in the GOP?

Old joke: fellow calls his producer friend. “Hey, Steve, how’s it goin’?”

“How’s it goin’? You kiddin’ me? Goin’ amazing! I have one movie in production, a sitcom that just got picked up for next season and we’re about to do a pilot for a game show.”

“Oh, you’ve got someone there? Sorry, I’ll call back later.”

Which is to say that the face you show the world may have more make-up and more made-up stuff than the one you show your friends. Inside your heart may be soupy, but outside you still have to make sales. Whatever it takes, some coffee to brighten your mug or some bubbly to put the fizz in your phiz. Nobody wants to see you grim, ace. Your scowl is a 7 on the Richter scale; save it for your loser brother-in-law when he comes to ask for another loan. Keep it simple: smile.

Our Republican friends seem to have forgotten this advice. Perhaps they’re afraid to take the Dale Carnegie course because Carnegie was a rich industrialist who doesn’t poll well with Reagan Democrats. One thing is for certain. They’re sour and dour for all to see. Staggering around looking like halfway between dyspepsia and catalepsy. It’s their party and they’ll cry if they want to. The last Republican to crack a smile was Tom DeLay, and that was on his mug shot.

Wherefore this ennui? What welts have caused this schmerz? The answer is: fear itself. Nothing bad has actually happened yet. It’s just that they’re apprehensive about this year’s congressional elections. Now, everyone is a little chicken before an election, but this is more like Chicken Little mode. I never worried as much about finals as these guys are fretting over midterms.

Their first mistake, as above, is forgetting that “if you don’t show it they don’t know it”. Smile, you’re on candidate camera. Even when the facts are grim the face must grin. When they say the polls have gone south, just go “Ho, ho, ho” like Santa Claus. Remember, the guy running against you is trying to look like a winner so people will make him a winner; but you already are a winner! You won the last time, remember? The pundits said nay then, too, but the voters said yea so you said yay. You can gainsay the naysayers again.

But their second mistake may be even larger. Namely, things are not so bad. A war casualty here, a botched issue there; a bloated budget here, an indictment there. All of this can be lived with. Sure, there is always a crisis du jour. Still, none of this is too far from business as usual in the big city. The Republicans hold the cards, controlling the White House and both houses of Congress; why assume it’s all a house of cards?

There is a maxim that I have published in the past: “Matters of the moment are rarely matters of moment.” Whatever issues come up, from Iraq to the ports to illegal immigration to making the tax cuts permanent, need to be handled calmly and rationally, from a position of strength. If people govern from their convictions instead of from lobbying, they need not fear when the lobbyists are convicted. Dance with the one that brung ya, chances are he’ll bring ya again.

By contrast, creating a climate of panic tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. No one is looking to vote for a guy who has a bad case of jitters. Magnifying every danger sign and shrinking every hopeful sign just manufactures a new angle of distortion. In fact, it’s time to coin a brand new axiom: “Realism should be as much of a check against pessimism as it is against optimism.” How come if you say things are looking up they say, “Be realistic,” but if you say things are going downhill fast they call you a wise man?

For the most part, life tends to come closer to our dreams than to our fears.

Right now, the only thing constraining me from predicting a sizeable Republican victory in November is the GOP’s own glumness. That hangdog won’t hunt.

And so, one last old joke: A bald man buys an expensive toupee for his daughter’s wedding, but he gets very depressed when everyone seems to be giggling. “Why are you sad, Daddy?” the bride asks.

“Because I think everyone can tell it’s a wig.”

“Oh, no,” she replies. “Nobody I told knew.”