Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Fight Epic Inflation!

Two tidbits from the wrecking crew's current exercise in scorched-earthism stand out above all. The first is the revelation that a few elder Republicans, namely Former Attorney General Edwin Meese III, devised the current brinkmanship strategy of shutting down the government in an effort to destroy Obamacare a long time ago, as in just after last fall's elections. You can read all about the "blueprint to defunding Obamacare" here. So much for the grassroots efforts of Tea Party regulars.

The second thing that stands out is rhetorical. Speaker Boehner’s comment that Republicans are locked in an “Epic Battle” (matched by a senator's comment that Republicans, unlike the French, do not surrender) said it all. Ever since the counter-attack against the Great Society in the 1960s (much more so than during the initial counter-attack against the New Deal), a siege mentality has been building and building on the Right until it has reached the point of paranoia. Every social program rests precariously on the slippery slope to socialism, every vote in Congress is a life and death moment for the movement, and the president is a foreign-born Muslim -- not simply a moderate who adheres to another historically dominant intellectual tradition in the U.S. (and, who, er, wanted fewer Americans to die from a lack of health insurance enough that he used a Republican-originated and market-oriented plan to get more of them coverage). This bunker mentality was and is a good strategy. The Right is so good at “working the ref” (bitching and moaning to the referee so much that you eventually get some friendly calls) that it gets a lot of what it wants; for example, after the Right demonized the “liberal media” for a generation with no end in sight (well past the point when this characterization even approached reality ... and this report is good too), CNN's webpage now feels the need to have a conservative columnist (and a well-known one at that in Newt Gingrich) but Fox News's webpage ... well, can you name the progressive columnist there?

But somewhere along the way, the clever theorists of the working the ref strategy starting believing their own BS. And as a historian, what I find additionally distasteful about this Epic Battle mindset, beyond its nastiness and the fact that it's currently being manifested in economic terrorism, is that it is so out of line with the views of the founders — you know, those wigged and powdered but supposedly populist folks whom the Tea Party normally fetishizes (and who rather inconveniently believed that a stronger state would grow the economy).

"Long live the little guy!"
The founders designed the Constitution to produce institutional conflicts, but they assumed that consensus could still be achieved through 1) a unity of public-interested elites; 2) rational and informed debate predicated on the assumption that these debates were in fact real, meaning that some lawmakers would change their mind during them (!); and 3) the willingness of average citizens to defer to elites. Obviously we've arrived at zero for three ... and while we're at it, don’t get me started on how the Tea Party actually subscribes to the views of the anti-Federalists, making its worship of the Constitution all the more ironic.

When he was locked in a budget or tax battle with Reagan, it never would have crossed Tip O’Neil’s mind to speak of an “Epic Battle.” It may be ok for The Dude in the Big Lebowski to draw a line in the sand, but this kind of thinking is less funny in the real world, where it's hurting the economy and real people's lives. And anyway, why would Tip O’Neil resort to such bloated rhetoric and ruin his night out drinking with Republicans at the end of the work day? (I’m sorry to romanticize the mid-century Congress, but I do think there’s something to the argument that disappearing fraternization across party lines there is a big part of why our politics have become so poisonously stuck.) There's a lot of talk out there that Speaker Boehner is a drunk (why has the blog "Drunk Boehner" fizzled?), so what's the problem? Even if Boehner doesn't know that the term “Epic” should be reserved for twenty-mile trail runs and fresh powder, shouldn't he therefore at least know that it's also reserved for fantastic beer? Someone book this sad man a weekend in Jackson Hole, please. 

Knowing that language matters, and determined to take back the word “Epic,” I traveled to Salt Lake this past weekend. Our now-lives-in-Milwaukee-formerly-at-KSU friend Aaron was in town for a conference and stayed with us. Powder was not an option, but we were in fact snowed out of our planned hike because the mountains got several inches of snow — this being the first week in October. So we retreated to lower elevations and enjoyed sweet and longish if not truly Epic hikes in Mill Creek and on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake (I managed to forget the camera on Antelope). The fall weather was certainly Epic. We spent most of the first hike debating the relative merits of foliage in Vermont and Utah. I staked out the position that the reds out East are more spectacular (though I fully concede that, in the yellow category, nothing beats the blazing aspens of the West). By the end of the day, the snow had retreated from the trail to the tops ...

But meanwhile, just up the road ... anyone getting excited?

Aaron spent most of the Antelope hike dealing with the tree that he and Tara were on the cusp of removing from their new lot ... or was it the neighbor's tree? Hard to tell now.

The pinnacle of a fun-packed weekend was an excellent dinner at the new, well, Epic Annex with J and Aaron and John and Sarah and the boys. Plus, about half of our other friends showed up mid-meal on a fundraising pub crawl for the Madeline Choir School. Ah the bonhomie of the gentiles here … I managed to forget the camera once again, but I hope my fellow Salt Lake blogger won’t mind if I borrow some photos with full recognition. A perfect fall day spent hiking in the Wasatch followed by sumac-dusted fries, cauliflower dip, Korean chicken wings, and a lamb burger with pickled vegetables — capped off with a whiskey-barrel-aged Smoked and Oaked and a Brainless on Cherries? First tracks in early October, even if they weren't ours? These, my friends, correctly qualify as Epic.

Photo credits: Urban Spoon, Kelli Nakagama and

Photo credits: Urban Spoon, Kelli Nakagama and


  1. Still need to get to the Annex. Sorry I missed the pub crawl. We bought into the Manhattan party instead. There is a politics/beer tie here that you missed: the Tribune reports that all labels for new beers have to be approved by some federal office, and that office is non-essential and so shuttered, so Epic and others may not be able to market their full set of seasonal brews. We may have to do without pumpkin-squash-dill porter, or whatever.

  2. Ok, Derek, shut-down is over. Need a new thin political veneer to get us into your hiking-and-food-porn blog....

  3. West Yellowstone Katie! Of course, another Epic place for first snow of the year is Emigration ...