Weather Explains Politics

In the wake of recent political developments, there has been a lot of hand-wringing about why Democrats in Congress are so spineless, and have been unable to pass meaningful legislation despite huge majorities. After thinking about my travel plans last night, I think I have the key to the Grand Unified Theory of American politics.

The problem is not that Democratic politicians are uniquely craven, or venal, or anything like that. The problem is Washington, DC.

No, this is not a prelude to some right-wing rant about how the Real America can be found only in states with more livestock than people. The problem is that Democratic politicians have spent far too much time in Washington, DC, and as a result have internalized the city's characteristic approach to its environment, which is pants-wetting terror.

We're talking about a city that shuts down its schools when there is snow forecast. Not falling, not piling up on the ground, forecast. If the long-range forecast calls for snow on Friday, the stores sell out of bread, milk, and toilet paper on Tuesday, Wednesday at the latest.

Spend enough time in that environment, and it starts to get to you. I spent six years living in DC when I was a grad student, and by the end of that time, I was starting to fall into the DC mode. A light dusting of snow, the sort of thing I wouldn't think twice about going out drinking in when I was in the Northeast, started to keep me home. I said it was because I didn't want to deal with the idiot locals, but that's just the first step down the slippery slope toward, well, becoming a Democratic congressman.

Democratic politicians are so spineless because they've spent so much time living surrounded by people whose reaction to the slightest bit of weather-related adversity is to crawl back into bed and cry for their mommies. Given that environment, you can't really expect them to stand up for themselves in the face of, well, anything. A strong headwind makes their knees go wobbly-- it's no wonder they cave in the face of Republican parliamentary tactics.

"Ah," you say, "that might explain Democrats, but how do you explain the Republicans? They're not turned into craven cowards by living in DC."

Au contraire, I reply, because I took French in high school. You forget that there are two failure modes for humans gripped by paralyzing fear. Some retreat and cower, while others lash out. They try to compensate for their own crippling inadequacy by bullying those smaller and weaker than themselves.

If you know where to look, you can see clear indicators of this element of Republican psychology. Yeah, they're great at dominating Democrats and kicking kittens, but look at their response to terror. The mere suggestion that we might possibly consider transferring suspected terrorists from Guantanamo to maximum security prisons on American soil gives them the vapors. From their reaction, you would think that the wimpiest terror suspect being held in Cuba was Galactus, Eater of Worlds, rather than an unsuccessful Afghan poppy farmer sold out by his neighbors.

Clearly, both political parties have been infected by the corrupting influence of Washington DC. It's not the money, it's not the power, it's not the corrupting influence of mephistopholean lobbyists. It's the weather. Specifically, the negative influence of living in a community that goes into vapor lock when it gets a little cloudy.

"All right, smart guy," you say. "You've got your Unified Theory of Politics that explains the behavior of the political parties. How do we fix this?"

The solution is clear, and obvious. We need to go back to basics, and look to the Founding Fathers for guidance. Specifically, George Washington, our first president, whose capital was... New York City.

Washington had it right. New York is the right place for the capital. It's not just that it's the city with the most money and power, it's the city with the most attitude. New Yorkers are tough, and not cowed by mass murder within the borough of Manhattan, let alone a little bit of weather. People in New York don't cower in bed when it snows, they shake it off and go on with their day.

That's the kind of fortitude that is sorely lacking in our modern politicians, of both parties. When New York politicians suffer a setback due to parliamentary maneuver, they don't cringe away and offer timid compromises. They either lock the other party out of the legislative chambers-- literally. If they get locked out, they don't whine to the press, they steal a key and a spare gavel, and break in.

(Yeah, OK, they're also wildly corrupt. But who would notice the difference?)

We need more of that backbone. The problems facing us are too serious and too urgent to be dealt with by cowards and bullies. We need legislators who will stand up and fight in the face of adversity, and you just can't do that in a city that wets its collective pants when the weather gets a little rough.

And that's why we need to abandon Washington DC, and bring the government back where it belongs: New York City.

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I think you're on to something. Perhaps this is what Colbert can ask in his interviews with congresspersons: what, specifically, makes you cower in pants-wetting fear?

Full disclosure: It snowed last night and I'm taking the day off, not from fear, but because the government is letting me. I didn't want to dig out my car at 5 AM; I wanted to sleep instead.

Following a bit further why stop at New York City, Buffalo if you want to stay has worse weather and lives with it, or perhaps Bismark ND, or Glendive MT, or Fairbanks, AK. All places where a little snow does not shut the place down.

How is fortitude a matter of concern ?
I just read that the Credit Default Swaps went from
140 billion up to 65 trillion in 10 years. CDSs are
supposed to be insurance against some company going
bankrupt. How well do any of these congress critters
understand this stuff? It seems to indicate that companies
are 500 times more worried about bankrupcy than 10 years
ago. Talbott says that the immediate cause of the market
meltdown was inability to make margin calls on this stuff.
Paulson was going to have a reverse auction but discovered
that all these things are convoluted contracts - it did not
work. So - it looks like things are so complicated that
nobody can figure it out - that, rather than fortitude,
seems to be a huge problem. Another is that nobody knows
the risks a company has because these derivatives are not
public knowledge.

By joel rice (not verified) on 03 Feb 2010 #permalink

I'm with Lyle, let's let the government be near the center of the country. Fargo, ND floods too often, so that's out. I'll vote for the Twin Cities here. We get a snow day in my school district once every two or three years. We don't even cancel parades unless it's worse than 30 below.

Plus, I could get hired for a cushy paper-pusher job for triple what I'm paid in education. That'd be neat!

I hate to undermine your grand theory...

Every suburban school district in the DC area is closed today due to three inches of snow. DC Public Schools opened on time.

Every suburban school district in the DC area is closed today due to three inches of snow. DC Public Schools opened on time.

That doesn't really undermine Chad's theory. Do Congresscritters who have school-age children send them to DC public schools? I don't actually know for sure, but some common options would be (1) back home, wherever that is; (2) if they have a house in the DC suburbs (Rick Santorum, when he was a Senator, maintained a house in northern Virginia), perhaps the public schools there; (3) a private school such as Sidwell Friends. Also, people in the District can actually get places on the Metro, whereas those who live in the suburbs are much more likely to be totally car-dependent.

If you want a geographically centered capital, the ideal spot is near Castle Rock, South Dakota. To fit it in with existing transport infrastructure, you would probably want to put it in Rapid City, which is about 60 miles south. (Note: This is the geographical center if Alaska and Hawaii are included. Simply googling "us geographical center" leads you to Lebanon, Kansas, which is the closest town to the geographical center of the 48 conterminous states.) Blizzards are a fact of winter life in South Dakota, so they don't shut down for a little bit of snow--but you do need to watch out for snow drifts.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 03 Feb 2010 #permalink

Basically our only hope for rational government is to relocate congress to a biosphere.

Sure, I can go along with that.

Weather silliness aside, the characterization of politicians of both parties as excessively fear-driven seems dead on to me. But maybe it's a fair reflection of their constituents.

I agree, although you forgot the effects of our gawd-awful heat and humidity in the summer. Wearing a suit when it is 90 degrees with 95% humdity does bad things to your brain.

By katydid13 (not verified) on 03 Feb 2010 #permalink

If your theory holds, you'd expect freshmen Democrats from Northern states to be the least pusillanimous, while Southern Republicans, coming from states even less able to handle winter weather. I think Al Franken and Jim DeMint are pretty solid evidence for you.

Of course, you missed the whole contretemps last winter when Obama mocked his kids' school for closing due to snow, and D.C. responded by pointing out he works from home.