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Late Night: The Invisible Mongoose

*description: Rhinogale melleri *source: Mammals/smit.mam1.index.html *artist: Joseph Smit)

One of my very favorite living writers on this planet tells a joke that isn’t a joke really:
… Guy gets on a train with a box, airholes in the side. The man he sits down next to asks him about it, and he admits that he’s got a mongoose in there. Dude B is like, “Not something normal, like a bunny or a cat?” No, there’s more to the story. “It’s because of my older brother. He’s a drunk, among other things, and at this point he’s just completely out of his tree. He sees serpents, everywhere. Everywhere he looks, he’s seeing these snakes and they make him terrified.” And Dude B is like, “So they’re imaginary?” Yeah. “So then why the mongoose?” And the first guy smiles and looks very meaningfully at the box, which is empty. “Imaginary mongoose.”
I really can think of no better way to describe the political conversation we are having in this country about economic issues, than to tell that story up there. We are not having a debate about the economy. We are not discussing problems and solutions. We are not working out causes and effects.
We’re just walking through the American landscape with a cleaver and we’re hacking away, declaring that we have to do this, that we have no choice.
Where can we cut next? How much can we cut here, or there? We’re broke, you see. Look at this piece of paper I just had an intern make copies of. It says we’re broke. It says it in special red ink I wouldn’t be able to use if we weren’t broke, so let’s cut. Cut cut cut cut.
And anybody dumb enough to stick his head up and say look, not only are we not totally broke, but the degree of broke that we actually are is entirely fixable by doing a few very simple things that for no reason at all we have declared off-limits, anybody dumb enough to do that is called crazy.
(People who can see clear to the other end of a problem generally wind up being called crazy, which sucks for them because the step after calling them crazy is to throw them in prison and the step after that is worse.)
Crazy, because when you’ve spent as much time as we have, as a country, NOT having the real conversation we should be having, you get really pissed off when someone points out that your bullshit is, in fact, bullshit and there’s no need for a mongoose here. You get really defensive, I mean, we must be broke. All those people said so. We must not have a choice, because all those people said so.
We have no choice but to to do away with food for the poor, books for schoolchildren, medicine for the sick. We have no choice but to take away bargaining rights, food stamps, bus routes, train stops, health clinics, anything and everything anyone can think of EXCEPT war, because we’re broke.
We can cure war, famine, pestilence and death with one decade of fair income taxes from GE. Suspending our wars will provide enough funds to make our schools palaces. We could feed hundreds of people for what we spend on just one day of dropping bombs on other countries in the name of peace.
We do have a choice. We don’t have to declare the majority of the conversation off limits and then fight over the few political scraps that are left. We just have to admit that the snakes are invisible and so is the mongoose.
I won’t be holding my breath until that happens.
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Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel is a 10-year veteran of the newspaper business. She publishes First Draft, a writing and politics blog, with her partners Holden, Jude and Scout. She is the author of the books Chicago's Historic Irish Pubs (2011, Arcadia Publishing, with Mike Danahey) and It Doesn’t End With Us: The Story of the Daily Cardinal, about a great liberal journalism institution (2007, Heritage Books). She also edited the anthology “Special Plans: The Blogs on Douglas Feith and the Faulty Intelligence That Led to War” (2005, William, James & Co.) Her work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Daily Southtown, Sirens Magazine, and Alternet. She lives in Chicago with her husband, two ferrets, and approximately 60 tons of books.