Ask Mrs. Vera: Are we still fighting The Civil War?

Dear Mrs. Vera,

Are we still fighting The Civil War?

Fond Regards,
Charles Rangel (D-NY)

Mrs. Vera, with peacock feather and assorted excess.

Mrs. Vera Newman,
San Francisco, California.
Photo: Vinc LeVinc, 2004.

Dear Charo’s Tangles,

So lovely to hear from you again after all this time. My readers may not know this, but before entering politics and getting himself elected into office in New York, Mr. Rangel played a mean guitar and invented a much coochy-coochy-cuter version of twerking, one that you could watch with your mom on the Carol Burnett Show, or the like, without dying inside at the collapse of humanity jiggle-grinding before you.  I’m especially delighted to get a question in writing, to be honest, since I never could figure out half of what was being said during any interviews given by Mr. Charo with either The National Enquirer or, later, The Wall Street Journal.  Still hard to follow, despite the genuine joy in the sound of his own voice he had both as Charo and a key Washington insider shaping the political dialog today. Gosh, the last time we worked together, Mr. Rangel and I both had to play keenly competitive professional shuffleboard-tour floozies desperately in love with Captain Stubing on The Love Boat. As if. Not many people know that the classic 70’s scent, “Charlie,” was named after Charles Rangel and/or Charo, because it simply wasn’t.

That was a pretty stupid episode of an otherwise brilliant program, and as an added bonus related to this week’s question, you may recall they even had an African-American actor as one of the regular guffaw-inducing cast members, proving the unnecessity of affirmative action laws. His character was the one who wore the outfit Paula Deen likes too much, and who made fancy drinks while listening to white people, and Charo, moan all day long about their addictions to creating a series of ever-escalating misunderstandings, crossed wires and inopportune shrimp-related disasters on their paths towards sexual and emotional fulfillment with people they hoped to get to know better before docking in Bermuda to buy ugly tourist crap. Like Charo, he only had one name, Isaac, but that was OK because there wasn’t anybody else who looked like him on the show and, anyway, lots of TV characters have no last names, like Ginger and Mary Ann and the Professor, to name three. I don’t think there’s anyone in Congress today who has what it takes to make that work on a weekly basis, though many are certainly doing their best to look at the government as if it were a formerly popular TV program that they’ve decided they themselves don’t care to watch anymore, and so have therefore devoted the remainder of their lives, on this pale, blue dot lousy with fish pee, entirely to the cancellation of that show, even though many people still watch it regularly, if only just for the roads and National Parks or whatever else they’ve already paid for.

Well, let’s try to keep you in a job at least, Mr. Rangel, as long as you can keep getting yourself elected, anyway. Standing for election and then swearing to uphold the laws of the land is a hoary old tradition, I’ll admit, but it’s the celebration of these traditions that bind us as a society, and helps to give a party (or nation) a theme, so it’s not just a bunch of tedious, bored married people visiting each others’ ugly houses and relatives in order to pass on and get rid of horrible presents they can’t stand. Playing by the rules agreed to is what allows graciousness to enter public discourse, but when all you do is to indiscriminately break things when you don’t get your way while grabbing your collective crotches and bragging about how much more of that (+ rude physical gesture) you’ve got in store for the people you represent, well, usually the only invitations you’ll receive are to go to your room alone and think about what you’ve done, or occasionally you might get invited to a lumber bust-up in a barn, but in that case, watch out for spiders.

Mr. Rangel recently stated he saw a similarity (or was it a semi-hilarity?) between today’s Tea Party, and The Confederacy, who defied Lincoln and the Constitutional Rules governing the United States by (attempting) to secede from The Union, because they felt “The Government” had no right to tell them who could or couldn’t own other people and pay them no salary while working them to death, or who could be or couldn’t be a slave, although there actually were plenty of laws that spelled all that out at the time quite clearly, of which everyone was all in favor and nobody complained about, not unless they couldn’t vote or read, or even be taught to read, or happened to be a slave.  They certainly had little taste for the early 1800’s version of our modern affirmative action (emancipation) laws back then, since everyone knew with august certainty that slaves weren’t humans, and so therefore everybody was already equal. There were, I’m fairly certain, hundreds of thousands of white southerners who yearned to be slaves if only those horrible affirmative action laws didn’t give all those jobs to minorities, effectively keeping white southerners iced out of that market and relegated to remaining free men, a burden from which they still labor to be disadvantaged by, today.

But many (on one side of the issue) will say that the demands of the Tea Party, which read like a very pushy suicide note from a stranger you really don’t have time to get involved with, but who keeps ramming your grocery cart with theirs and firing guns wildly at everybody because that darn rascally rabbit done gone and, and, sputter, and-ok, basically we’re talking about Yosemite Sam’s political agenda, I’ll just say it — have nothing to do with race, or slavery, whatever those quaint historical concepts people are always bringing up whenever someone at a rally starts to wax poetic about the necessity of union busting, the unfair cost of labor, having to pay taxes to run programs that help people who are not paid enough to live on and generally any cost associated with doing business in the stable, productive environment made possible by not having a slave state based on principles of inequality and hoarding. Tea Party members and sympathizers haven’t got a racist bone in their bodies, they will tell you proudly, while making a little mental note that they are a little insulted by what you are insinuating, because you can tell right from the x-ray every single bone they have is white, and photos don’t lie.  So, out of exhaustion, let’s all rip out our eyes to achieve something we can all agree approximates color blindness, and move on. The Tea Party stands against Big Government, Federal Government, plain and simple, no further thinkin’ required, just votin’.  Theirs is the Voice of Treason, only the “T” is silent, because the Government has no business in the business of pronunciation.  It’s nowhere in The Constitution, they say, so it must be an Obama power-grab against all the pent-up demand for silent Ts, because in Kenya there’s such a shortage of Ts of any kind that the people there use clicks!, and we all know what that means. Or we don’t, actually, but whatever.

My point is that despite all their belligerence to the contrary, the unifying core of the Tea Party is its opposition to the federal government, on principle.  The word “Confederacy,” semi-hilariously enough, is derived from the Latin “con” (against) and “Federus” (Aggregated governance by tennis excellence). So in a literal sense, the goals of the Confederacy and Tea Party are the same, hatred of the federal Government and its role in determining what the public landscape looks like. They are like two peas in a pod, except both peas in this case are a weird off-white color that looks better with fair hair. There is a crucial difference between the two, however, that reflects a certain reality surrounding the baseness of their respective times. The Confederacy was fighting to hold on to a beloved practice that was common at the time, because it was part of a system that produced good results for an elite sector of society, the voting part. They sought to preserve a thing they thought was good for business. The Tea Party, on the other hand, fights only to destroy the system it has enjoyed all the benefits of, a system of governance that has produced more wealth than I could fit into even a very large purse and whose policies have moved staggering millions out of poverty and into ever better futures, for generations. This system has worked spectacularly well for these politicians and their supporters, who have tirelessly dedicated themselves to its destruction. They seek to destroy a thing they have endless evidence of being very good for business, so good in fact you can even elect a confederacy of dunces into office and it still won’t break.  Whatever it is they are so hell-bent on turning this country into, it isn’t America. It certainly won’t be the America they were lucky enough to have been born into.

There’s a final difference worth noting as well. While I feel we are, in fact, still fighting the battles the Confederates lost at the end of the Civil War (and always will be, until equality of opportunity is achieved), the historic war was waged by a South that took great pride in its genteel manners and courtly goings-on, the flaky biscuitry and wily feminine charms of its demure, distaff, and vapor-prone womenfolk, along with the graceful dispositions of its citizenry, were representations of the character of the Southern Gentlemen, whose very way of life hung in the balance. Our modern Tea Party has stripped entirely away this facade of civility, in its red-meat hunger to win the last rib on the carcass, no matter how hungry those kids look.  It would be a mistake to equate today’s struggles with anything that could competently be referred to as “civil.”  But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a war going on.


Mrs. Vera, lost.Mrs. Vera Newman is a San Francisco absurdist character, humorist, artist, writer, community organizer, clothes horse and co-founder, with Mister Tina, of The Verasphere.  She has been answering the unasked questions she receives from the lonely, empty rooms of America’s heart-shaped circulatory pump room ever since it began beating.  Nestled in the politically bent bowels of the Nation since she was a young girl babysitting the very same newborn Nation, her ability to self-reflect about anyone else’s embarrassing shortcomings, inept fumblings or lousy recipes has enabled her invisible rise as a modern-day Cassandra, whatever that means.  Feel free to dispose of all your worries by leaving them on her doorstep!