Friday, March 12, 2010

Ralph as Obama

I'm teaching Lord of the Flies right now to my freshmen. Yesterday we talked about the scene in which Jack and his hunters let the fire go out. They miss a chance at rescue because they're busy killing their first pig.

Afterward, when Ralph, the elected chief of the boys on the island, accuses Jack of dereliction of duty, Jack apologizes. His Cheneyesque apology draws a positive response from members of his own party:

The buzz from the hunters was one of admiration at this handsome behavior. Clearly they were of the opinion that Jack had done the decent thing, had put himself in the right by his generous apology and Ralph, obscurely, in the wrong.

One of my freshmen asked, "Why do they side with Jack? Can't they see that Ralph is right?"

Ralph is right, of course, that the first priority of the boys on the island should be keeping the fire going as a signal to possible rescuers, and that the second priority should be building shelters. But the lure of the hunt is too great, especially in comparison with the drudgery and labor of fire-tending and shelter-building. The kids don't understand the truth of the situation, so they get caught up in political theater.

I thought of this today as I read George Packer's fine New Yorker article (subscription required) about Obama's first year. Packer quotes a congressional senior aide who suggests that part of Obama's difficulties have stemmed from his disinclination to play simplistic, flashy political games like Jack's, and his desire to think long-term about what's best for the nation.

"One of the problems with this Administration is it has tried to have a grownup, sophisticated conversation with the public.... The country doesn't want to have the conversation he wants to have."

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