We are potty training the imp. Our method has always been to let the child run about naked from the waist down, so that when the need hits there is an immediate awareness of no diaper. This means lately I've been greeted when I get home by a chubby little monkey in a sweatshirt and socks. "Hi Dad!"
"Isaac!" I like to kid him, "where's your pants?"
"I don't know!"
The training has been stretched out because we're trying to sell our house, which means we get frequent calls informing us that we have to turn on all the lights and vacate the premises. No, we aren't leaving the state, just this neighborhood. We have our sights set on a place that is more . . . us.
The point is, we have stretched out this boy's potty training for too long. He now has no compunction about leaving little puddles -- because he can't just pee it all out at once -- scattered about the kitchen. It's like having a puppy, only a puppy can't climb atop a table and jump up and down on it like a raving lunatic until it crashes to its side, landing (of course) on his fingers so that he has to get his first x-ray before he can say: "emergency room co-pay."
But, there were Winnie-the-Pooh stickers involved, as well as a couple of pretty x-ray machine ladies who thought the boy was absolutely the cutest thing they had ever seen, so in the end I don't think he learned a thing from the disaster, except that when you say "goodbye, ladies" to pretty x-ray machine women, they're likely to come chasing after you to give you one more hug and another Winnie-the-Pooh sticker for good measure.
The primary reason we like to get our youngsters potty-trained around two years-old is very simple: the diapers are appalling. Especially for the imp, who is in the 3rd percentile for height, and the 96th percentile for weight. He's not fat, but he is a thick chunk of barreling, screaming baby flesh. It takes a lot of food to sustain those numbers and that energy level.
His mother's been teaching him exclamations that are acceptable alternatives to what he's picked up from Dad. So, to tie it all up and let you get back to your Saturday, I've got the boy on the changing table, and we're dealing with a Level 5 Hazmat disaster. As the wave of odor hits, I search my vocabulary for something that won't earn me a smack upside my head from the wife, and, in a poop-inflicted stupor, I simply utter: "Oh!" Isaac takes this as his cue to teach me a few phrases.
I've never had a child so cute and such a terror all wrapped up in the same hyperactive bundle. He can't walk anywhere, he has to run. He can't speak, he has to shout. Food isn't eaten, it's gobbled. He even tackles sleep like it's a bear that must be wrestled to submission. Everything is an adventure, in his eyes. It's a good way to see the world.
A family we know in Virginia is in the hospital with their baby, who has leukemia. Across the hall is a young couple who has already lost one child, and has learned that their three year-old boy has advanced brain cancer, likely untreatable. The people we know overheard the young father whisper to his wife: "I can't bury another one of my children."
It drains all the life out of you to hear about them, these moments we keep from our minds, though they are all around us, little spots of hell here on earth. We get in a froth over which ill-educated talker is going to rule over us for a time, or worse, over why our favorite team can't seem to post enough wins. We moan because we aren't appreciated enough or wealthy enough or treated to more interesting sex. We come to think that all the world's aches are poured onto our shoulders, until we catch a glimpse of horror, and realize that this present pain is nothing. It is a blessing, compared to someone else's moment of hell.
So I offer up my weak prayers for this man I'll never know, and this child I can scarcely bear to think about, and feel impotent and ungrateful as I do it. And I wonder sometimes if the purpose of prayer is not to make things right, because if so then none of us has ever prayed, from the look of things on this broken planet. Perhaps it's simply to remind us that this is not our home, thank God, that this is not the final place for us. We pray, some of us, that the passing will be sweeter, and quicker. We pray that, if nothing else, we not be asked to bury all the ones we love before we rest.
It appears that Republican control of the Senate now turns on Conrad Burns in Montana, and George Allen in Virginia. I have an image of a desperate Snow White, perhaps not so snowy white any more, pinning her hopes for rescue on Sleepy and Dopey.
In the House, meanwhile, a host of feckless rulers was turned out, replaced by a host of fresh-faced busybodies, most of whom show no sign of ruling with more wisdom or principle than their vanquished foes. It brings to mind an observation by H.L. Mencken:
"Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule - and both commonly succeed, and are right."
To those convinced that the country has now taken a turn for the worse, Mencken offers grim consolation:
"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."
One of my closest friends recently sent me an impassioned email, reminding me that we are at war, and that while the Republicans have failed in many respects, they are a darn sight better than the Democrats when it comes to national security and long-term prosperity. I understand this reasoning, and I respect it. I trust that the majority of my readers, both left and right, vote out of a conscientious desire to do what is best for our country.
I used to feel that way as well, but something's changed, for me. I am convinced that when we cast our vote for someone, we are giving sanction to his acts. I am no saint. I don't expect to be represented by saints. But I think it is reasonable to expect that our rulers act on principle. This means doing, at times, what is unpopular with the press, the pundits, and quite often, citizens. It is the fundamental dividing line between a Ronald Reagan and a William Clinton, an Abraham Lincoln and a Herbert Hoover. Would a Congress full of people committed to the stated principles of the Republican Party have presided over a two hundred percent increase in pork barrel projects, a near tripling of earmarks, and a fifty percent increase in the size of the federal government? In what sense are these people better than their opponents? Their tenuous consent to a protracted, hubristic exercise in nation-building?
To be sure, there are people with principle in Congress. I don't agree with Joe Lieberman or Jeff Flake on everything, but I admire the fact that they don't let opinion polls determine their actions. How many other elected officials can say the same thing?
I don't expect the new crop of meddlers to do anything other than undermine prosperity and hamstring the West in its conflict with Islamofascists. In doing so, however, they will act according to their natures, and their principles, and their promises. I would rather we be bloodied by the ignorant than slowly strangled by hypocrites. There's something nobler in the former, I think.
I believe America is an exceptional country, not yet succumbed to European nihilism. The party that proclaims liberty needs time in the wilderness, to reflect on why, whenever its members attain office, they set about corrupting ourselves and telling people what they think they want to hear. I still believe that people who are willing to speak unpleasant truths in love, while consistently acting on principle, can win office. The question is: where are they? Perhaps the Republicans need a few years to figure that out.
I've been reading All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren. It's about a well-meaning man who gets into politics to change things for the better, and ends up corrupt and morally bankrupted. It's quite fitting, in this election season. I can't decide whether to write in "None of the Above" on my ballot, or "Mickey Mouse." The wife insists that the former is a serious political statement, and hence in keeping with my civic duty, while the latter is too disrespectful. I've explained that disrespect is precisely what I'm aiming for. But then I got to thinking about it, and I don't think I'm willing to trust Mickey with the power that has amassed itself in Washington. I suspect anyone coming out of the Disney organization will be a control freak at heart, and what we need is someone with the good sense to recognize that the American people can do just fine, thank you very much, without micromanagement by the automatons who were active in college student government. I mean, have you met any of these people?
The main reason I'm going to vote, however, is not to scrawl something irritating on the "write-in" line, but to vote against the county commissioner running in my district. I caught his act on NPR recently, detailing his plans for economic growth. They turn on several expensive government projects, not surprisingly. In his worldview, prosperity depends on wise politicos like himself picking economic winners. Never mind that the only people who actually have some skill at this are working in start-ups or venture capital shops or hedge funds. To someone without an ounce of economics or history education, economic growth is just a game of blocks. Move some pieces here, move some pieces there -- all funded by the taxpayers, of course -- and the economy will be built into a thriving machine.
And the most delicious part of all this is that the guy is a Republican. His Democratic challenger, meanwhile, is running on a platform that amounts to not paying for the boondoggles he's proposed, firing county employees, and doing a comprehensive audit of past spending. Despite this fact, the Republican will probably win, because this is a Republican area. Even though this man's voting record is an affront to anyone who claims an affinity for liberty, he wears the right label. Party identification means nothing any more, and yet it determines how most people vote.
That last is an offensive observation to many, because they like to imagine great phalanxes of informed Aristotles marching into voting booths to exercise their collective wisdom. The reality is that most people either: a) are feigning ignorance in the presence of survey researchers, or b) have very little knowledge about the positions or past actions of the people for whom they vote.
This is why, of all the political news this Fall, the most distressing, to me, comes from Arizona, where voters today entertain the notion of creating a one million dollar voter lottery. The goal is to increase voter turnout in future elections, as if voting, in and of itself, is something good. When people don't vote, it is quite often because they are ignorant of the issues, apathetic about the outcome, or disgusted with the available choices. Low voter turnout, in other words, is an indictment of the education system, the candidates, and the name-calling, mud-slinging, ignorance-fostering methods that pass for campaigns these days. Citizens ought to be wary of governmental efforts to obscure this fact.
It's not just politicos who have an interest in propagating the notion that voting is a sacred duty. I read a couple of weeks ago in The Wall Street Journal about a pastor in Cincinnati who held up a Bible and announced to his congregation that they have "a moral obligation to vote." The gist of the piece was that evangelicals are once again preparing to hold their noses and support the likes of Mike DeWine in Ohio. It seems to me that in many races, given a choice between two unprincipled, blow-dried, cowardly, pandering buffoons, Christians have a moral obligation not to vote.
Or, you can do like me, sharpen your pencil, and tell the candidates that you prefer neither of them. I suppose you could give your vote to Mickey Mouse instead, and corrupt yet one more pea-brained performer by sending him to Washington. I, for one, don't want that on my conscience. Mickey, like many of the people with their names on ballots today, belongs in cartoons.