posted by killre
"What mighty contests arise from trivial things," wrote Alexander Pope in 1712. The phrase was later adopted by Hasbro as a slogan or a motto or perhaps merely a self-conscious justification for the board game Trivial Pursuit.
I'll be the first to admit the pursuit I'm about to embark upon is pretty trivial, but I just can't seem to let it go...
Chris Mathews was like a kid on Christmas morning during Wednesday's edition of his MSNBC show, Hardball. Former White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers and the Huffington Post's Howard Fineman joined him on set at the University of Denver to shake the presents 'neath the tree and try to guess what might transpire during the first presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
Toward the end of the segment, their discussion centered on whether Obama would do better to pounce on any early opportunity Romney might give him or lay off and see if moderator Jim Lehrer (of PBS) would press Romney on the point in question. (If not, Obama had the option of coming back to hit Romney on it later, albeit to less effect.) Myers and Fineman voiced their opinions and then --just before the when-we-come-back and the cue to commercial-- Mathews coughed this bulky nugget onto the table (I'll paraphrase):
"Why did the cavalry leave the fort to fight the Indians? Because they're cavalry."
A throw-away line, to be sure, intended to elicit a chuckle more than make a point, then carelessly crumpled and tossed in the general direction of the nearest recycling bin. Yet here I go, chasing after it, picking it up, smoothing it out, puzzling over it...
Mathews delivered the one-two as if he were quoting someone. Who, when or why the words were ever spoken I couldn't say.
At first blush, this cloudy question-and-answer gem might be taken as a sort of blue-collar wisdom akin to Yogi Berra's "It ain't over 'til it's over" (a saying that is true, by the way, except when it isn't).
A second consideration might lead one to the possibility that some not too deep-thinking 19th century military man didn't want to answer the question, so he decided to be snide about it. Sort of an Ozzie Guillen type with mutton-chops. Several years ago Guillen, then manager of MLB's Chicago White Sox, was suffering through a press interview following a tough loss. One reporter had the temerity to ask him why he'd put such-and-such a pitcher into such-and-such a situation in the bottom of the whatever inning. Guillen replied, "I made the pitching change because I'm the manager."
I'll pause at this point to permit you to ponder the profundity of that pronouncement.
I call it a Job v. God answer. For those of you unfamiliar with the case of Job v. God, I'll summarize. The name Job, by the way, is pronounced with a long vowel sound, as if it were spelled Joeb.
God was throwing a big party out at the lake house one weekend...
See, now, already some of you are starting to think about being offended. To you I say with utter sincerity: Trust me, you're going to be a lot angrier by the time this story is over. Please refer yourself to the big word on the banner at the top of this page.
So anyway, God was throwing a big party out at the lake house one weekend. He'd invited all the highest-ranking angels in the company. Of course, they'd all have had to attend, even if they weren't among the most dedicated brown-nosers in the cosmos.
Lucifer arrived late. On purpose. This was back before he and God had their big falling out, but even back then Luci (as he was known to his friends) was more brash than most of his colleagues.
Yes, Lucifer was called Luci by his friends. It was a different era, when proud men bore names like Mordecai, Hiram, Orville, Marion, Shirley... heck, even Willard. (Actually, Heck was a name, too.)
Anyway, Lucifer arrived late, but almost immediately he realized that God was being a boastful douchebag this day.
"Luci!" the Old Man boomed. "About time you showed up. I was just telling the boys about My pet human Job. Have you ever seen a more well-behaved human?"
Lucifer rolled his eyes. "Of course he's well-behaved. You've given him everything! A beautiful family, good friends, wealth, power, land, stock options..." He paused to knock back a shot of Hot Damn!, then snapped his fingers for another. "I'll tell you something, Yaya--"
God had made it abundantly clear He didn't like being called Yaya. He frowned. For most, it was terrible to behold. Of late, though, Lucifer had started to take perverse delight in displeasing the self-righteous Old Fart, so he bulled on. "I'll tell you something, Yaya, I'll bet you that if you let me torture Job, I'll have him cussin' a blue streak in less than a month."
"You'll bet Me," God said. "How much?"
Lucifer shrugged. "Ten thousand bucks?"
God raised His eyebrows. "That's a lot of scratch."
Lucifer smirked. "Afraid You'll lose?"
The Almighty considered, then He spake so He unto him, and saying: "You're on, you cheeky little dung beetle!"
So Lucifer threw all his energies into what he called Project Dirty Word. He destroyed Job's house, killed Job's whole family, got Job fired from his, uh, job (short vowel), stole all his money, afflicted him with, like, three or four chronic diseases... pretty much took everything from him but his Social Security. Even for Lucifer, that's a third rail.
Job was a tough old bird, but even the toughest among us has a breaking point. He filed suit in Superior Court. Once he'd gotten God face to face, he demanded to know why he'd been treated so unfairly.
Unwilling to admit that the whole sorry series of events stemmed from a childish wager He'd made with Lucifer, God pursued a stupifying defense. He looked at Job and said, "Who the hell are you to question Me?" Case closed.
Now, then... where was I? Oh, right:
Why did the cavalry leave the fort to fight the Indians? Because they're cavalry.
The problem with this pearl isn't just that the answer is unsatisfying in its over-simplicity; the problem, like the cases of Job v. God and Reporter v. Guillen, is that the answer never addresses the real question. It presumes that there will be a fight, and that the question is where. The real questions are, however, (a) why must there be a fight and (b) if there must be one, how best to wage it?
You see, the cavalry does not ride forth to engage the enemy simply because they are cavalry; instead, they are cavalry because someone must ride forth to engage the enemy. That may sound like mumbo-jumbo to some, but it isn't. The former is a case of tactics dictating strategy; the latter of strategy dictating tactics.
As to who in Chris Mathews' attempted analogy --Lehrer, Obama or Romney-- is supposed to be represented by the fort, the cavalry or the Indians, I still don't know...
...but I'm probably over-thinking it.
P.S.... Bud "I'll Have a Hot Damn! to Wash Down My Hot Dog" Selig must go.