"When a man's fancy gets astride of his reason ... , the first proselyte he makes is himself."
Once again it's time to brace ourselves for the onslaught of political rhetoric resplendent with the wisdom of Socrates, the majesty of Alexander the Great and the muscle of Mighty Mouse all rolled into one.
"My economic policy will insure America's prosperity far into the new century; I've developed the most effective tax plan since the Roman Empire; I'll protect this country from future terrorist attacks or die trying!"
Boasts like these roll off eager, office-seeker lips wherever government of, by, and for the people replaces the tyrant, the dictator or a royal line of kings. It's normal, I suppose.
After all, if we're choosing a president, governor, School Board chairman or judge, we have to know who is the most qualified, right? It's hard to know, for example, which of the four candidates for Superior Court judge really has tried more cases during his career than the other three, as each claimed during a recent candidate forum.
Gilding the lily - "to be possessed with double pomp" - is nothing new. Most of us delude ourselves into thinking we're more valuable than we are. I won an essay contest once, $10-prize and all, my pride undiminished when I learned mine was the only essay submitted. But these "big guys," wouldn't you think they would be more careful? (Or truthful?)
All this reminds me of the part in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels after the shipwrecked Gulliver swam to the tiny island of Lilliput, and promptly fell asleep. When he woke, Gulliver found himself bound hand, foot and hair, and suffering from the tickling sensation of insects crawling all over him. The "insects" turned out to be pygmy-like people, "a little longer than my middle finger," who had tied up the "Man-Mountain" for their own protection.
Swift was far more than a story-teller. Repeated disappointment and delayed recognition for his obvious wit turned his thoughts first to books and then to the church. As his disillusionment with society grew, his ability to express himself in written form increased. He found his niche as England's master of satire.
Swift made fun of everyone, mainly through the guise of fiction, and never more clearly than through the captors of the unfortunate Gulliver and their monumental task.
Shouts of self-congratulation erupted after the Lilliputians served the Man-Mountain his first meal: load after load of food and several hogsheads full of brew. But what then? They couldn't kill him because the carcass was too big to carry away.
After much discussion, the Emperor of Lilliput made many decrees which the Little People carried out in a flurry of obedient activity. A bevy of women sewed 600 Lilliputian beds together to make a bed for the captive, 600 domestics guarded him and tended to his needs, 300 tailors made him a suit of clothes, six instructors taught him the Lilliputian language, mathematicians calculated the amount of food he would need each day - 1,728 times the normal diet of a Lilliputian since he was 1,728 times their size - and, in lieu of taxes, every villager within 900 yards of the great temple where he was kept had to deliver each morning: "6 beeves, 40 lambs, and other victuals for my sustenance."
That this story was a metaphor of 18th-century England hardly needs to be mentioned. The Emperor's tight rein, the Little People's - flurry of activity in an unnecessary cause - the Man-Mountain only wanted to be set free - and the importance they placed on protecting an Empire "whose dominion extends to the extremities of the globe," but which was only 12 miles around, mirrored the inflated claims of power and excessive government Swift thought England to have.
In the absence of a Jonathan Swift today, perhaps his works should be required reading for anyone running for political office - not that any one of them is the size of a Lilliputian, you understand, but so they'll understand neither are they or their desired task the Man-Mountain size of a Gulliver.
Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to seabara at aol.com.
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