Cooperators of the Prairies

It was not accidental that the man who embedded this version into the political vernacular, Ronald Reagan, was himself reprising a role from his “B” Westerns. The late ex-president didn’t just memorize his scripts—he believed them. Not for the only time, he chose a congenial fiction over an inconvenient reality.

Start with the notion that wealthy Americans all have made their money through honest endeavor, and that taxes therefore are a form of theft.


How They Broke the Peace

Probably most of us have heard about the informal truces that broke out along the front during the trench warfare of World War I. The story is extraordinary in one respect, and yet utterly normal in another. Here they were, young men huddled in miserable trenches, the “enemy” in the same circumstance just 50 yards away. Shelling from one side would be returned promptly by the other. There was no gain, and yet men might die. The stalemate continued day after day, week after week. What would sane people do?

At these remote outposts, far from the high commands, rituals of cooperation emerged. The sides would shell at the same time each day, and to the same exact spots, so that the other could stay out of the way. If there was a mistake – the artillerymen far behind the lines couldn’t always be trusted – a soldier at the front would shout out an apology. “These people evidently did not know there was a war on,” one British officer reported with indignation and astonishment. “Both sides apparently believed in the policy of ‘live and let live.’”


The ‘We’ in Social Security

It’s been just a month or two, but already it seems like 50. The focus-group maestros and message masseuses are out in force. (It’s personal accounts, not private accounts.) The megabuck ad campaigns are rolling into place. The folks who brought us the Swift Boat ads in the presidential campaign now are going to maul the American Association for Retired Persons, which has committed the crime of opposing the president’s plan.

I am talking of course about the Social Security debate, which quickly has become a dreary reprise of everything that has made big-time American politics such a numbing turnoff.