Matt Miller - The Archives

The Washington Post, August 8, 2012

"The rover ushers in a new era of exploration that could turn up evidence that the Red Planet once had the necessary ingredients for life—or might even still harbor life today."—The New York Times, Aug. 6.

(A subterranean classroom on Mars. Life forms appear humanoid except for much larger brains. All wear white garments that look like silk nightgowns. Students gab before their professor shows up).

Student 1: This one seems bigger.

Student 2: Pretty fancy landing.

Student 3: But it still doesn't know we're here, right?

S1: It scoops soil. It can't detect underground cities. They're still pretty primitive ...

(Snickers and nods all around. Professor enters.)

P: All right, gentlemartians. Enough about the rover. Welcome to Advanced Topics in Earthling Political Economy. If that's not the seminar you signed up for, now would be a good time to leave. Has everyone done the reading for our first class?

S1: Yes, mentor, but something is wrong. The earthlings at the—(looks down at paper)—"Tax Policy Center" obviously can't do simple mathematics.

S2: He's right, mentor, it makes no sense.

P: Why do you say that?

S1: Because their new report finds that the Republican primate Mitt Romney wants to cut taxes on wealthy Americans and raise them on everyone else.

P: Now, remember, colleagues, what's the first rule you learned last year in analyzing earthling political behavior? The one thing you must never forget?

All students (in unison): "Never assume fairness or reason."

P: Exactly!

S2: But, mentor, even granting this principle, there must be some practical limit.

S3: It's true, mentor—or the judgment we would have to render is harsh.

P: Explain.

S1: Well, we collected data, as you suggested. The richest 400 Americans have more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans combined.

S2: Half the jobs in America pay under $34,000 a year.

S3: One hundred million Americans have incomes of less than twice their poverty line. That's $38,000 for a family of three.

S1: Forty-four percent lack savings or a pension to meet basic retirement expenses.

S2: Nearly half of all Americans say they'd have a hard time coming up with $2,000 in 30 days if an emergency arose.

S3: So to propose, in the face of these facts, to tilt the distribution of income even more toward the top would be ...

P: What?

S3: Well, it would be illogical, mentor.

P: Republican primates care nothing for logic!

S1: It's immoral, mentor. Even by Earth's standards.

P: Republican primates care nothing for morality! If they did, they wouldn't have cut taxes repeatedly for rich people during a decade of war! Stop thinking like a Martian and put yourselves in their shoes.

S2: But it also seems pathological. Not to mention self-defeating. Because squeezing the masses should eventually produce a violent reaction.

P: Ah ha! Self-preservation! Now we're getting somewhere. Who can explain why the Republican primates might overreach to the point of risking violent backlash?

S1: I've wondered the same thing, mentor.

S2: Yes, mentor—what's the matter with Kansas? (Giggles erupt around the room).

P: I see you've been reading ahead! The truth, gentlemartians, is that Kansas is frightened. And numb. That's what the Republican primates have figured out. And the Democratic primates are too witless to rouse them. In a global economy, Republican primates know that a billion poor souls across the planet would give anything to be America's "working poor." That's why their de facto slogan is so, well, neanderthal. You're lucky to be in America! You're lucky to have a job! You're lucky to have the emergency room!

S1: It's shocking, mentor. For a quote-unquote "advanced nation." But it seems to work.

P1: We know, of course, from our own history that primitive civilizations pass through such a phase. As humans evolve, these patterns will eventually be transcended. But not until progressive primates muster more convincing arguments and bolder ideas. Until then, they'll anesthetize the population with Gabby the Flying Squirrel and ... (winking his middle eye) Mars rover landings...

S2: These humans are so easily manipulated. Will there ever be intelligent life on Earth?

P: An excellent question to ponder until we meet next week!

S1: One last thing, mentor.

P: Yes?

S1: Who will the earthling Romney pick for VP?

P: I'm betting Rubio. These Republican primates may be perverse. But they play to win.