Fatal contraction: Hunting for R-E-S-P-E-C-T in the GOP shutdown
It’s one of the most notorious lines of film dialogue of the last 30 years: Fatal Attraction’s Alex Forrest telling her married bed buddy that she intends on remaining a very active presence in his life. The movie itself is philosophically odious – a lament on behalf of douchebags everywhere who wonder why they can’t nab a little somethin’-somethin’ on the side without the bitch gettin’ all grabby on them. But regardless of the context, that quote remains iconic shorthand for a person who not only lives outside of reality but expects everyone else to join her there.
The spirit of Alex Forrest possessed Representative Marlin Stutzman this week, when he delineated the path by which his House GOP would walk back from their government shutdown: “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”
The obvious riposte to Stutzman’s confused plea for respect: You’ll get it when you start behaving respectably. Christ, even Alex knew what she wanted.
Orlando Weekly’s Jeffrey C. Billman has more on the political and policy implications of the shutdown here. For my own part, I’d like to talk a little bit about “respect” as a concept. Some people think a stranger is owed respect simply by being; others feel respect has to be earned. I’m honestly not sure where I come down on the issue. But I do know that, once somebody has lost my respect via his behavior, it’s up to him to win it back. He isn’t owed a mulligan by me or the world at large.
And even if he does re-earn that respect, he doesn’t deserve a party to go along with it. That’s why I’ve always hated the Biblical parable of the prodigal son. “More joy in heaven for one lost soul that has found its way than for 99 that have never gone astray”? Not in my house! No sound theology rewards final capitulation to upright behavior more greatly than it celebrates havin’ it right from the start. I always felt for the good son in that story, who wondered why nobody ever made a fuss over him — only to be told that he could have had a party of his own at any time had he asked nicely for it. Talk about your false equivalencies. Even Chuck Todd would notice that one.
So Stutzman and his buddies have climbed out onto a ledge, and they want just the right sweet talk before they agree to come inside? Sorry, no grand bargain. The American people aren’t going to drape the lei of statesmanship across the shoulders of somebody who took himself out onto the margins to begin with.
Earlier this week, Jon Stewart spoke for a lot of folks when he answered the GOP’s belated call for “compromise” with Willy Wonka’s famous “You get nothing!” If the shutdown drags on into mid-October as expected, maybe Stewart will also be moved to trot out this one:
For me, though, anticipating the endgame to the shutdown brings up yet another cinematic memory. To explain it, I have to return for a moment to Alex and her bunny-boiling rage.
When Fatal Attraction was released in 1987, America was a lot like that movie’s Dan Gallagher: enjoying a hedonistic binge and unconcerned with the consequences. Three years later, with the balloon of entitlement duly burst, Martin Scorsese made Goodfellas, a picture that illustrated the dark side of that delusion pretty ably (no matter how many drunken film-school freshmen may have tried your patience by going on and on and on about it).
In one important sequence, Henry Hill decides he’s tired of his wife always asking him where he’s been, and moves out on her to live with one of his whores. Ultimately, his pal Jimmy Conway and his mentor, Paul Cicero, come to visit him and tell him that the fling is over. He’s making them all look bad, they explain. So he’s going to go back to his wife. Paulie says he’ll even smooth things over with her, to help Henry get back to normalcy.
And that’s what’s going to happen, Representative Stutzman. You’re going to go back to your job, and without fanfare. You aren’t going to be “respected” for it, and no one is going to kill the fatted calf. Nor are you going to get to cook any more hares. And when you do get back to what you laughingly call work, we’ll all smooth it out for you by continuing to pretend that you and the rest of the House GOP are legitimate members of an august institution, and not just a bunch of suicide bombers with a favorite bar.
Then you’ll have to get your respect from activities that are healthy and normal. I understand karaoke is fun.
Days without a response from the publication that plagiarized from me and won’t come clean: 108.
Follow me on Twitter: @Schneider_Stv