Monday, November 21, 2005

Acute 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 are 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. Foghorn Leghorn lives.

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, as an act of mercy, 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 have beome a much closer and more present danger to our well-being than any old avian flu ever will be.

Cross-posted at The Neighborhood of God


American Crusader said...

Interesting. I've always found Arlen Specter to be one of the few men of honor in the Senate. As a Republican, he has been able to maintain his personal beliefs on a number of issues. Resisting the temptations that come with high office must take extraordinary virtue. Their would be entire blocks of buildings bearing my name.

antifraud said...

Funny timing that you happened to write about this, Dymphna. Here's some more info regarding that little meeting of the three little porksters.

Keep up the good work.

Thomas von der Trave said...

This is why even certain dyed-in-the-wool Dems had a hard time pulling the lever for Jacques le Querrie.

He just reeked of Senatitis. Like a guy wearing a puffy shirt, leather pants, Earth Shoes(TM), a string tie, half a bottle of cologne and a Greek fisherman's cap, he thought he was the coolest thing on the dance floor and mistook everybody's incredulous stares for popularity. I hear he's still very depressed about losing.

"I have a plan..." Yeah, I'll bet you do. Does it involve your face on a postage stamp?

Thing is, Cato is olde enow to remember his speechifying before the Senate as an anti-war vet. Even then he stank of ambition and self-love to the point where a lot of peaceniks (of whom I was one at the time) couldn't stand the sight of him.

We always knew he'd end up in the Senate. It was just a question of how many bodies he'd have to climb over to get there.

hank_F_M said...


Let us be fair, it could be worse. Senator Stevens is at least providing a bridge, unnecessary and overpriced as it is.

They could have Senator Durban of Illinois. Votes the radical left position on anything and everything unless it is bill to line the pockets or protect the power of the NE Illinois Republicrat machine. The pols get rich and we don't even get bridge.

goesh said...

term limits on the bastards (excuse the language) and an age limit, like, get your senile a** back home once you hit the age of 70 even if you are just starting out a newly elected term - oh well, who listens to me these days, certainly not the american public who really only wants cheap gas and the ability to purchase wal-mart goods rather then merely fondling said goods - all else is secondary - we deserve what we get, or is it, we get what we deserve? I can never keep that straight