Sunday, July 17, 2005

“Spineless Democrats”

My editor had sent me to interview a college professor, and I felt out of place. “Tell me, Doc,” I began, once we were seated, “what exactly is your title here at the university?”

“I’m in the Political Biology field,” he said. “I hold the chair in Comparative Political Anatomy.”

“Hope that chair is softer than this one!” I joked. It’s always good to put the interviewee at his ease. “I expected you’d have a huge lab,” I went on, “but you seem to have mostly office space.”

“I do some lab work,” he said, “but mostly I do field biology. I study the political animal in his native habitat—legislative chambers, smoke-filled rooms, watering holes near the capital. We only use the lab when one of our subjects is pronounced politically dead. Then we bring him here and perform an autopsy on the carcass.”

“I see,” I nodded. I’ve found that if you don’t understand a word somebody said, your best bet is just to nod. “Look, the reason I’m here is that the book you just published has created quite a stir. In it you announce the discovery of a new political species, the Spineless Democrat. Finding a new species must have been quite a thrill for you.”

“It’s actually a subspecies of the Common Democrat,” he said. “There have been isolated reports of such a creature from time to time, but it’s so drab that it generally escapes notice.”

“What led you to your discovery?”

“I had been observing widespread behavior indicating the absence of a backbone—Democrats lining up to support the Patriot Act, handing the President the power to start the war, voting to cut taxes for the rich, voting for CAFTA, endorsing the Republicans’ bankruptcy bill, being bought off on that godawful energy bill, etc.--, so there were some indications where to look.”

“From your description, it sounds as if it would be tough to tell them and Republicans apart.”

“A lot of people confuse the two species; they’re almost identical. You can distinguish the Spineless Democrat by his timidity, his poor vision, and the absence of venom in his fangs.”

“You make it sound easy.”

“Well, of course the lab work was more complicated than that. Some of the specimens were gutless, some had lost their heads, some their posteriors, and some their spines, so it took awhile to sort them all out.”

“How do these spineless creatures move around? Do they scuttle like crabs, for instance, or do they crawl on their belly like a reptile?”

“That was one of the amazing things we found. They actually have an exoskeleton—an outside skeleton, covering the surface of their body—made up of starched shirts and pinstriped business suits. They’re able to remain in a vertical position for fairly long periods of time, and are surprisingly mobile.”

“So they’re often upright?” I said, jotting a note.

“No,” he said, “just vertical.”

“Is there a large population?” I asked.

“It’s fairly sizable for the time being,” he said, “but the number of Democrats holding office is declining, and we think the spineless variety may be the reason. They seem unable to reproduce. Every specimen we’ve examined so far has been sterile.”

© Tony Russell, 2005

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