Thursday, July 28, 2011

Well, This Is Weird

So, about the only lighter moment involved with the ongoing debt/default/government shutdown crisis is that over the last two days various Republican politicians have taken to accusing each other of being various characters in Tolkien's LotR.

It all started with a WALL STREET JOURNAL editorial which portrayed the House Republicans as naive "tea party hobbits":

The idea seems to be that if the House GOP refuses to raise the debt ceiling, a default crisis or gradual government shutdown will ensue, and the public will turn en masse against . . . Barack Obama. The Republican House that failed to raise the debt ceiling would somehow escape all blame. Then Democrats would have no choice but to pass a balanced-budget amendment and reform entitlements, and the tea-party Hobbits could return to Middle Earth having defeated Mordor.

This is the kind of crack political thinking that turned Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell* into GOP Senate nominees . . .

Here's the link to the full piece from which this passage comes.

It probably would have ended there, had not John McCain taken it up and read this same passage from the floor of the Senate (so this Tolkien analogy is now officially in the CONGRESSIONAL RECORD -- how weird is that?) on Wednesday; see the C-Span footage included under the following link:

Things got even more complicated after that, with Rand Paul wandering into the fray, mildly observing that it's better to be a hobbit than a troll,** and the hapless Angle referring to the original "fable".

But they reached apotheosis when Steven Colbert, who like Adam Savage has serious LotR geek credentials, had a go at it on his show; the Tolkien bit starts about a minute into the four-minute segment:

And that seems to be a good place to leave it.

--John R.

*who herself is something of a Tolkien fan

**though it's weird in itself that anyone named after Ann Rand cd admire Tolkien's hobbits.


Rob Heinsoo said...

You're right. It's weird times when your Tolkien Watch alarms start ringing in the middle of congressional fiascoes. Thanks for the links.

Troels said...

I have no intention of commenting on the political issue (which would be extremely presumptuous of me, as I am not a US citizen), but there is, I think, an interesting comment on Tolkien's sub-creation hidden away in all this: I would like to comment on Tolkien's Hobbits rather than on US politics.

The original Wall Street Journal article seems to have been reasonably favourable of Hobbits as such even if it does seem to present belief in this Hobbit scenario as being very naïve. Possibly the intention with the mention of Hobbits is precisely to invoke this naïvitée about how the larger world works, and this would, I believe, not be wholly inappropriate if we consider how Tolkien portrayed the Hobbits (by which I exclusively mean that the use of Hobbits may be appropriate to the intention of the writer; not that I necessarily find the intention of the writer itself appropriate or inappropriate).

Speaking of Sam as a more representative hobbit, Tolkien describes some truly typical Hobbit traits:
|    a vulgarity — by which I do not mean a mere
|    'down-to-earthiness' — a mental myopia which
|    is proud of itself, a smugness (in varying
|    degrees) and cocksureness, and a readiness
|    to measure and sum up all things from a
|    limited experience, largely enshrined in
|    sententious traditional ‘wisdom’
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Humprey Carpenter (ed.), no. 246 to Mrs Eileen Elgar (drafts) September 1963

This, it would seem to me, is quite close to what the writer of the original WSJ article intends to imply, possibly together with an acknowledgement also of the good sides of the Hobbits — their courage and indomitability, for example.