Sunday, July 29, 2012

Tragedy of tragedies and no Shakespeare in sight

Any debate centered on the greatest tragedy writer in literary history will invariably include William Shakespeare. Tragic theatrical literature is as integral to the Elizabethan Englishman's legacy as stately political analysis is to Thomas Jefferson's. However, while tragedy is a favored tool of adept playwrights, it's downright indispensable for political tyrants.

Playwrights benefit from weaving suspense into their scenes. Tyrants benefit from weaving dependence into the law. Of course, the playwright's and the tyrant's motives are as different as night and day. But their base tactic is analogous. Tragedy creates empathy, and empathy captivates an audience. The scene plays frequently on today's political stage. Emotional stories generate compassion among a sympathetic but uncritical audience.

Ohio was the stage for a recent installment of this perpetual drama, where President Obama received tearful praise for enacting the Affordable Care Act. The emotional appeal came from a young woman whose sister succumbed to colon cancer four years ago. No one can argue that the scene isn't sad, even tragic, or that it's repeated far too often. But then life is filled with tragedy, and with people willing to use another's suffering for personal gain.

Admittedly, it seems crass to think a woman's death would be manipulated for political purposes. Yet the very nature of contemporary political discourse compels us to question scenes such as the one in Ohio. Was it genuine or fictional? Either way, it makes for prime political theatre.

Anyone who questions the scene's authenticity is quickly dismissed as the worst villain since Iago. What kind of person would suspect another of lending the death of a sibling to a political agenda? Only a cold-hearted boor could conceive such a conspiracy. However, the Ohio woman herself needn't be the actor for her tragic story to become an unintended performance.

Remember Henrietta Hughes, a woman of unemployment, homelessness, and assorted woe? Oh, how the sympathy did flow. Hers was a supreme tragedy, with the leading politician -- President Obama -- basking in the spotlight. Right on cue, Obama promised to alleviate Henrietta's suffering. On stage he played the hero. Behind the curtain he did nothing to alleviate Hughes' problem. Hughes herself was but a role player, a dispensable character in an endless political tragedy. The same can be said for Cindy Sheehan, the late Rodney King, and everyone who has "fainted" during an Obama speech. Each and every one became part of the political script.

Stephanie Miller, the aforementioned Ohio woman, is now on stage. Whether she's a plant or a heartbroken sister grieving for a lost sibling is material only to her. On the grand stage Miller plays a bit role. Yet she's indispensable to the overall drama, which serves to enhance the State's image. Presenting Ms. Miller's grief to government's leading man promotes a relationship between personal suffering and government relief. The public's allegiance to the State builds upon such tragedy.

Ms. Miller believes she wouldn't be grieving today had the Affordable Care Act been in force when her sister fell ill. But Miller's dialogue contradicts the confidence she, or anyone else, should have in government healthcare delivery. Ms. Miller's sister, upon diagnosis, applied for Medicaid. Guess what? Her request was denied. And what is Medicaid if not a government healthcare program? Thus the gut-wrenching scene of a weeping woman thanking a politician for expanding the State's bureaucracy even after the existing State bureaucracy had failed the prior need. It's like taking a second dose of poison and expecting to be cured.

I believe Ms. Miller's grief is legitimate. But a politician's empathy is not. She is the latest in a long line of role players whose real life dramas fertilize the State's growth. Just as playwrights achieve success through the staged suffering of their characters, tyrants also capitalize on tragedy to enhance their stature.

British statesman Edmund Burke said, "The people never give up their liberties, but under some delusion." Tragedy, or its perception, is the most effective delusion available to political tyrants. Tragedy, often of the tyrants own making, dissolves personal responsibility and undermines liberty, resulting in a population becoming more dependent on the State to meet its basic needs.

How shall we be secure from mortgage foreclosure and monetary devaluation if not for government bank regulation? Where will we find jobs if government doesn't subsidize industry? Will we be fed, housed, and clothed if not for entitlements? Can we receive medical care without a government bureaucracy? Political playwrights have spun these scenes into individual tragedies, thereby focusing the audience's attention on government solutions. No matter what happens to the supporting characters tyranny grows and the State is empowered.

Liberty necessarily declines when personal sovereignty submits to political rhetoric. Yet an increasing number of Americans are submitting to political tyrants who promise more of an increasingly insolvent bureaucracy. We are active players in an epic political tragedy, one Shakespeare himself couldn't have written better.

The preceding article was first published at American Thinker.

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