Thursday, August 5, 2010
Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway by Dave Barry
When an election year comes around, I try really hard to stay above the fray. I know that there will be rumors and speeches and policies that get everyone really riled up, and I like to think that I can remain emotionally detached and not allow things to get under my skin.
I usually last until about the Conventions, at which point the slumbering poli-sci major in my brain wakes up and grabs the controls. At that point, I start to take things WAY too seriously. I write long, link-filled diatribes about why certain candidates (who shall remain nameless, in case I ever want to recycle this review during another election year) are completely wrong, utterly bereft of any kind of legitimacy or moral standing and how the American people obviously have the intellectual capacity of zucchini if they vote for them.
It's easy to get caught up, because that's what they want. Logical, well-reasoned approaches don't go over well with the public, so they rely on the emotional heartstrings, and sometimes they get me. I turn really serious and absolutely devoted to the idea that I Am Right.
The only antidote to this is humor. It's why I love watching The Daily Show - the more seriously you take things, the more self-assured you become in the absolute rightness of your position, the more you need to be taken down a peg. You need to take a breath, take a step back and allow yourself to laugh at the process. If you don't, you end up risking becoming one of those humorless, fanatic talking heads that just drive everyone crazy.
So, if you need some laughs, and we all know we do, you could do worse than to pick up this book.
This is an original book, rather than a collection of Barry's columns, and he promises right from the outset that he would do absolutely no research whatsoever. "To do an even halfway decent book on a subject as complex as the United States government," he says, "you have to spend a lot of time in Washington, D.C. So the first thing I decided, when I was getting ready to write this book, was that it would not be even halfway decent."
He is, of course, wrong. The book is at least three-quarters decent.
The government is a great source of humor, probably going back to the very first government when a particularly strong hunter-gatherer decided that he was the one best suited to tell the tribe what to do. Barry looks at the evolution of government, back from those early caveman days up to the early days of the twenty-first century. These days, instead of a large, heftable rock to beat possible opponents over the head with, they use commercials. Otherwise, the methods haven't changed.
Barry's sense of humor relies on him being The Common Man, someone who's not really interested in the intricacies of how the government works, but is perfectly happy just sitting back and making fun of it. He has a great time re-writing the Constitution ("Article IV, section 1: There shall be a bunch of States.") and illustrating the continual growth of the U.S. Government with the use of handy free clip-art pictures.
One of the best things he does is point out the fact that no politician ever, ever actually reduces the size of government, no matter what they promise. Government gets bigger, departments get more and more complex all the time, and there's really nothing that we can do about it but try and get a laugh. So whether it's the futility of trying to call prunes "dried plums" or trying to get Congress not to buy things that the military neither wants nor needs, the people in Washington that we trust to run the country are, obviously, insane. Why we keep sending them back is beyond me.
There is, of course, a section on the 2000 election - this book was written in 2001, so there was no escaping that - and a look at it from the unique perspective of those people who screwed it up for everyone. South Florida. The book gets kind of tangential at this point, going from making fun of the US government to making fun of Miami, but he does give us some warning. And in his defense, it is both funny and, in its own way, relevant. It has been argued that Florida is the reason why we had eight years of George W. Bush, so perhaps if we understand it better we may avoid such... unpleasantness in the future.
But I doubt it.
So, if you're looking for a good laugh and something to remind you that you can't take all this too seriously, pick up the book. It won't solve your problems, and it won't stop you from wanting to strangle everyone on the internet who disagrees with you, but at least a moment's respite is worth it.
"What the Founding Fathers were saying, basically, was: 'Why should we let people over in England saddle us with an unresponsive government and stupid laws? We can create our own!'"
-Dave Barry, Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway
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