America's adventures in Lobbyland
Alice in Wonderland
(This essay borrows from select passages of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter VII: A Mad Tea-Party.)
There was a lobby set out under a dome in front of the Capitol, and the Media Honcho and the K-Streeter were hanging around in it: a Doorman was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head. “Very uncomfortable for the Doorman,” thought American; “only, as it’s asleep, I suppose it doesn’t mind.”
The lobby was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at the door leading to a larger deliberative chamber: “No room! No room!” they cried out when they saw American coming. “There’s plenty of room!” said American indignantly, and she stood defiantly near the door.
“Have some whine,” the Media Honcho said in an encouraging tone.
American looked all round the lobby, but there was no one there but the four of them. “I don’t utter any whine,” she remarked.
“There isn’t any,” said the Media Honcho.
“Then it wasn’t very civil of you to suggest it,” said American angrily.
“It wasn’t very civil of you to come and plant yourself by this door without being invited,” said the Media Honcho.
“I didn’t know it was your lobby,” said American; “it’s spacious enough for a great many more than three.”
“Your budget wants cutting,” said the K-Streeter. He had been looking at American for some time with great curiosity, and this was his first speech.
“You should learn not to make personal remarks,” American said with some severity; “it’s very rude.”
The K-Streeter opened his eyes very wide on hearing this; but all he said was, “Why is an Obama like a communist?”
‘Come, we shouldn’t go there now!’ thought American. ‘I’m saddened they’re still asking there riddles. — “I believe I can solve that,” she added aloud.
“Do you mean that you think you can provide the answer to it?” said the Media Honcho.
“Exactly so,” said American.
“Then you should say what you believe,” the Media Honcho went on.
“I do,” American hastily replied; “at least — at least I mean what I say — that’s the same thing, you know.”
“Not the same thing a bit!” said the K-Streeter. “You might just as well say that ‘I agree with the Democrats’ is the same thing as ‘I agree with the Republicans!’”
“You might just as well say,” added the Media Honcho, “that ‘I like health care as it is’ is the same thing as ‘I dislike health care as it is!’”
“You might just as well say,” added the Doorman, who seemed to be talking in his sleep, “that ‘I am heard when I speak’ is the same thing as ‘I speak when I am heard!’”
“It is the same thing with you,” said the K-Streeter, and here the conversation dropped, and the party sat silent for a minute, while American thought over all she could remember about Obama and communism, which wasn’t much.
The K-Streeter was the first to break the silence. “What is it you want?” he said, turning to American: he had taken his watch out of his pocket, and was looking at it uneasily, shaking it every now and then, and holding it to his ear.
American considered a little, and then said, “To ask my government to address my needs.”
“That’s just wrong!” sighed the K-Streeter. “I will tell you what you need!” he added looking angrily at the Media Honcho.
“It was not my fault,” the Media Honcho meekly replied.
“Yes, but some crumbs of expectations must have gotten communicated,” the K-Streeter grumbled: “you shouldn’t have put this in her head.”
The Media Honcho took the watch and looked at it gloomily: then he tapped it, and looked at it again: but he could think of nothing better to say than his first remark, “It was not my fault, you know.”
American had been looking over his shoulder with some curiosity. “What a funny watch!” she remarked. “It tells when you are to meet with some elected official, but it does not say what you are meeting about!”
“Why should it?” muttered the K-Streeter. “Does your watch tell you such things?”
“Of course it does,” Alice replied very readily: “but that’s because it says the same thing every year for such a long time.”
“Which is just the case with mine,” said the K-Streeter.
American felt dreadfully puzzled. The K-Streeter’s remark seemed to have some sort of meaning in it, and yet it was certainly vague. “I don’t quite understand you,” she said, as politely as she could.
“Have you guessed the riddle yet?” the K-Streeter said, turning to America again.
“No, I give it up,” America replied, “what’s the answer?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” said the K-Streeter.
“Nor I,” said the Media Honcho.
America sighed wearily. “I think you might do something better with your time and money,” she said, “than waste it in asking riddles that have no answers.”
Here the Doorman shook itself, and began saying in its sleep “Cloture, cloture, cloture, cloture,” and went on so long that they had to pinch it to make it stop.
“Well, I’d hardly finished opposing reconciliation,” said the K-Streeter, “when the Speaker jumped up and cried out, ‘He’s murdering the time! Off with his head!”’
“How dreadfully stymieing!” exclaimed American.
“And ever since that,” the K-Streeter went on in a mournful tone, “they will do anything I ask! It’s always morning in my neck o’the woods.”
A bright idea came into American’s head. “Is that the reason so many tea party-things are being seen and heard here?” she asked.
“Yes, that’s it,” said the K-Streeter with a sigh: “it’s always tea party-time, and we’ve got no time to waste getting what we can for ourselves.”
“Then you keep moving the debate, I suppose?” said American.
“Exactly so,” said the K-Streeter: “as the deficit goes up.”
“But what happens when we seriously try and fix things again?” American ventured to ask.
“Suppose we change the subject,” the Media Honcho interrupted, yawning. “I’m getting tired of this. I vote the young lady tells us who she would like to see become the next ‘American Idol.’”
“I’m afraid I can’t say,” said American, rather alarmed at the proposal.
American tried to fancy to herself what such an extraordinary ways of living would be like to be an “American Idol,” but it puzzled her too much, so she went on: “but why can’t we stick to the subject?”
“Take some more tea party positions,” the Media Honcho said to American, very earnestly.
“I’ve had enough,” American replied in an offended tone, “so I can’t take more.”
“You mean you can’t take less;” said the K-Streeter, “it’s very easy to take more of nothing.”
“Nobody asked your opinion,” said American.
“Who’s making personal remarks now?” the K-Streeter asked triumphantly.
“Really, now you ask me,” said American, very much confused, “I don’t think—”
“Then you shouldn’t talk,” said the K-Streeter.
This piece of rudeness was more than American could bear: she got up in great disgust, and walked off; the Doorman fell asleep instantly, and neither of the others took the least notice of her going, though she looked back once or twice, half hoping that they would call after her: the last time she saw them, they were trying to put wads of cash in the Doorman’s pocket.
“At any rate I’ll never go there again!” said American as she picked her way through the wood. “It’s the most frustrating tea-party I ever was at in all my life!”
Doug Young is the film critic for The Colorado Statesman. He will be covering the Cannes Film Festival in May for the third year in a row.