Monday, November 21, 2005

Monday's Word: Volume 3, Senatitis

James Lileks refers to the affliction of those who inhabit the U.S. Senate as “Senatitis.”

Any medical term with “-itis” on the end of it means an inflammation of some sort. Thus we all have tonsils, appendixes (or appendices, if you’re a pedant), etc., and can come down with infections of these organs, resulting in tonsillitis, appendicitis, and so on. Such infections result in overt signs and symptoms. When the discomfort becomes too much we haul ourselves off to the doctor or the Emergency Room (depending on how long we tried to tough it out first) to have the problem remedied with medication or surgery.

But Senatitis is different. This apt term for the disorder welling up from the Well of the Senate Chamber is a special case. It’s not contagious, nor is it — under normal circumstances — heritable. However, if you carry the senatus mutation on your electoral gene, it becomes activated once the oath of office is administered. From then on, you will exhibit some version of this condition. Depending on your characterological traits previous to taking your oath of office, you may or may not succumb to the worst effects.

The first thing the practiced diagnostician notices about Senatitis is an inflamed ego. Another symptom is the tendency to speak boiler plate, even in the men’s room. The flight from reality differs in velocity depending on how long an individual member of this ‘club’ has been in office, but at its extremes you find Senators naming office buildings after themselves or proposing pork riders to bills already so laden with fat that they’re about to die from obesity.

In the first case, we have Senators Tom Harkin and Arlen Specter, who have proposed legislation which would rename Buildings 19 and 21 at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in their honor. No memorials for these august deliberators — they grab the goodies while they’re still among us. Thus, Headquarters for CDC will be called “The Arlen Specter Headquarters” while Harkins has to settle for the Thomas R. Harkin Global Center” since he is merely the ranking member of the Senate subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education while ol’ Arlen is the Chairman. Rank hath its privileges, don’t you know. Of course, there is supposed to be a rule against this kind of narcissistic self-appointment while one is still in office, but another sign of Senatitis is the tendency to honor rules more in the breach than in their observance.

The most infamous pork rider of this Congressional season arose in the House, via Alaska’s Representative Young. This is the uproarious and now-defeated Bridge to Nowhere, the pork butt of political pundits for some weeks. And sure it was defeated, but guess what? Alaska gets to keep the money. This is because the Senator from Alaska, Ted “Big Spender” Stevens, threw a tantrum on the Senate floor, threatening to resign and “be taken out on a stretcher.” Too bad for the commonweal: his colleagues acceded to his tantrum and Alaska gets to keep the money for other pork transportation projects.

Thus, you witness clear regressive traits in those who suffer from Senatitis: when frustrated, they resort to the emotional repertoire of the average four-year old: breath-holding and threats to run away from home.

There are myriad symptoms to Senatitis: everything from a personality disorder to clinical insanity. Their latest tantrum edict to the White House and Pentagon that members of the Executive Branch appear before their august selves and explain when the cut-and-run, or so-called “exit strategy” will begin in Iraq is an example of the latter. Or perhaps, as Mark Steyn suggests, alternatively, it is merely “gross irresponsibility.” With the level of maturity in the Senate, perhaps this order is simply one more example of irresponsible stupidity, but he’s being charitable. Given the consequences of senatitis being inflicted on the struggle in Iraq, clinical insanity, reduced intelligence, and repeated attacks of grandiosity may well result in a hemorrhage in the Middle East.

Senatitis sufferers are all addicted to pompous circumstance. Surrounded by the obsequious, the self-servers, and the eternal lobbyists, they have long since succumbed to a belief in their own publicity. John Stossel reported this exchange with an infamous and major sufferer of terminal Senatitis:

When the Democrats held power, I confronted Sen. Robert Byrd about wasting our money on "Robert Byrd Highway"-type projects in West Virginia.

His answer was as arrogant as he was: "I would think that the national media could rise above the temptation of being clever, decrepitarian critics who twaddlize, just as what you're doing right here."

"Twaddlizing?" I asked.

"Trivializing serious matters," he explained.

I persisted, "Is there no limit? Are you not at all embarrassed about how much you got?"

Byrd glared at me in silence, and finally demanded, angrily, "Are you embarrassed when you think you're working for the good of the country? Does that embarrass you?"
Grandiosity? Narcissism? Terminal Senatitis? Pompous old windbag? Right you are.

Stossel reports another conversation, this time with Walter Williams, in which the economist explains the difference between a thief and a politician: when a thief takes your money, he doesn’t demand that you thank him.

But Lileks said it best when he explained why so few senators ever inhabit the White House (though Lord knows, it’s not for lack of trying):
Perhaps there's a reason not many senators make the leap to the presidency. As we're constantly reminded, that august body is collegial, respectful, suffused with history and utterly besotted with self-importance. That leads to Senatitis, a disease in which otherwise rational men believe that the rest of the country doesn't see through equivocating bloviation in a second. There is no cure.
Maybe we could send them all to some kind of colony, and find a new Saint Damien to take care of them until the CDC comes up with a vaccine. These folks are a much closer and more present danger to our well-being than any old avian flu ever will be.

Cross-posted at Gates of Vienna


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