Bellow’s theory


There is a Saul Bellow novel (I forget which one. The Internet is silent on its identity, and Saul is no longer around to ask.) where he proposes the theory that Americans are going crazy because of lead in our drinking water. This piece is being written as America prances merrily toward economic disaster. Whether the debt ceiling was raised two days ago or not only determines the depth of the insanity that has us in its grip.

Entire nations have gone insane before. The Germans’ acquiescence to Hitler proved as much. And, before you dash off any letters to the editor, I am not comparing America in 2011 to Nazi Germany. However, economic disaster can and does cause more virulent forms of government. Our country proved it is not immune to a mental breakdown when it surfaced in the form of paranoia during the McCarthy era of the 1950s. Is national insanity too harsh a label? What else can we call it when reason deserts us?

In the United States of ’11, there are people (many of them send me e-mails), who are dependent on Social Security, Medicare and federal pensions and think government is their enemy. They rally against tax increases, even when those modest increases would help to fund the very programs they depend upon and they themselves will not see their taxes increased. Really, insanity seems almost too tame a word for folks who live in fear of their Medicare being touched as they support the very folks who want to do away with it. This is the essence of the Tea Party.

It is not only a lack of logic that has us in its grip, it is the failure to understand simple math. You don’t have to be an economics professor to know you can’t balance the budget without a mix of prudent spending cuts and tax hikes. Since when did modestly raising taxes on wage owners making more than $250,000 a year and taxing corporate jets become cause for hysterical opposition from those most dependent on the government safety net? Yet the Republican/Tea Party is composed of so many who have actually signed a pledge against raising any taxes ever. And incredibly enough, they define closing loopholes or letting a temporary tax cut expire as a tax increase.

What is it but insanity when a major political party and its supporters think climate change is a political issue? How crazy do you have to be to think the Environmental Protection Agency is the enemy of the people? What sane person would completely stop funding the Federal Aviation Administration without so much as a discussion about it? As the evidence mounts, some of us fall deeper into denial.

Is it really the 21st century when we are still debating evolution? How about the image of a Republican presidential debate where none of the candidates could admit a belief in evolution? Can a sequel of “Inherit the Wind” be far behind starring Michele Bachmann as a female version of Fredric March? This time in 21st-century America, Bachmann wins the debate. Don’t tell us we’re descended from monkeys!

It is only in a country threatened by creeping insanity that the majority of a major political party could believe America is headed toward socialism. Who thought Herbert Hoover would make a comeback? There is no collective memory. At the end of eight ruinous years of the Bush administration, a surplus was turned into debt by the same political party that so stridently preaches fiscal responsibility in ’11. It was a lack of government oversight on Wall Street that almost pushed us into a depression, not socialistic overregulation. But history is being rewritten because craziness has caused a kind of national amnesia.

How could a president who has all but jettisoned the liberal agenda be considered a socialist? How could a president whose administration is populated with the usual icons of free market capitalism be considered an enemy of capitalism? How could a president who rescued the auto industry and the banks be a threat to the American system? The answer can only be found in the craziness that grips too many of us.

What is it but national insanity that forces a president to reveal his birth certificate to prove he is an U.S. citizen? Even now, about 25 percent of folks who identify as Republicans remain unconvinced. There is not enough evidence to prove to them that there is not some kind of vast conspiracy behind the rise of Barack Obama. Even if he is a citizen, then his thinking process is not rooted in the notion of American exceptionalism because he had too much exposure to foreign lands. He is a foreigner even if he is not foreign. To some, there is a good possibility he is the anti-Christ.

There are already strong rumors that if the president wins reelection in ’12, his opponents will back a call to impeach him. Crazy people do not really believe in the legitimacy of elections when those elections don’t echo their own opinions. In the minds of the insane, only their vote is authentic. Impeachment becomes a tool, not to nullify democracy, but to implement democracy.

If Bellow were around, he would advise that we test our drinking water for lead poisoning. At least that would explain the craziness that has us in its grip. SPR


Contact the South Philly Review at


Previous articleThe Kama Sutra and other positions
Next articleHardly harlots
Jane Kiefer
Jane Kiefer, a seasoned journalist with a rich background in digital media strategies, leads South Philly Review as its Editor-in-Chief. Originally hailing from Seattle, Jane combines her outsider perspective with a profound respect for South Philly's vibrant community, bringing fresh insights and innovative storytelling to the newspaper.