Saturday, October 22, 2011

Rome Is Burning

I don't pay a lot of attention to my senators anymore. They don't listen to me, and they're constant disappointments. It was not always so. I used to be proud of both of them, but in recent years Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe have under preformed every expectation and constantly seem to seek out new lows.

It's somewhat strange that they would be doing this now. When the Republican Party was much less extreme they both seemed to take pride in being free thinkers who were willing to break with orthodoxy and walk a middle path. It seems odd, then, that they would fall into lockstep with a party they always saw as too far to the right when the party swerved sharply rightward.

The simple explanation is that they've compromised all of their principles and are now primarily concerned with reelection. If that is the case I question the efficacy of this strategy, they were elected in the first place because they seemed to be primarily concerned with their principles, without that what do they have to offer? If they look only at the primary, what might that do to their chances in the general?

Perhaps that's just wishful thinking, at this point I don't want either of them to be reelected. My ideal solution would be giving one of their jobs to Chellie Pingree (my congress critter), but she isn't running.

Anyway, Rome. It's burning.

That information comes to us from Olympia Snowe, previously my favorite senator. Three days later she supported a filibuster against a bill that would have brought the water buckets. It isn't accurate to say that she voted against the jobs bill. She voted not to vote on the jobs bill. The distinction is important because it if the actual bill had come up for a vote it would have passed. In fact, if I understand correctly, she voted not to even discuss the jobs bill. She voted not to amend it, she voted not to say it is good or bad, she voted not to try to improve it. She voted that nothing happen.

She told us, "Rome is burning. And we're facing a decimation of our communities. And they want help," three days later she voted that we shouldn't even consider helping.

Rome burning is something I know a little bit about.

The great fire of Rome took place in the year 64, by our calendar. It happened under the reign of Nero. Our earliest account of the fire says that Nero was not, in fact, fiddling. The writer didn't like Nero, but gave him credit for swiftly acting to help the homeless and the hungry. Rome was burning and without action people would have been starving and without a place to stay. The story of him singing to the fire is presented as a rumor. Later writers would present the rumor as fact, but they could never seem to agree where he was or what he was singing.

For the record, if he had been singing his instrument would have been a lyre, not a fiddle.

So we have to ask, if Rome is burning, how does Olympia Snowe stack up to Nero?

What has she done to make sure that the homeless have a place to stay? What has she done to make sure that no one goes hungry?

Nero is a very low bar to meet. For the sake of argument though, lets set it lower. Let's embrace the thing that even one of his detractors says was a vicious untrue rumor as if it were truth.

Rome is burning. Say, for the sake of argument, that Nero did decide not to help and instead put on a performance of the fall of Ilium. He can even have the anachronistic fiddle. How does Olympia Snowe's response stack up against that?

Even those who say that Nero fiddled while Rome burned, even those who say he set the fire himself, even they don't claim he did anything to prevent the fire from being put out. Even they don't say he did anything to prevent the rest of the government from responding.

The rumor is that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. That he callously ignored the suffering of his people. The rumor is not that Nero filibustered while Rome burned. No one, no matter how much they hated Nero, claimed that he worked to make sure others couldn't help. No one, no matter how evil and heartless they wanted Nero to appear, said that Nero told those who might be able to help, "You're not allowed to so much as consider helping."

Not even Nero would do something that evil. Not even Nero, mass murderer who repeatedly tried to kill his own mother, would sink quite that low. Because Rome was burning and while we might be able to imagine that the most evil man in Roman history would stand aside and do nothing while that was going on, it is inconceivable that even he would prevent others from helping those in need in the face of a burning Rome. Simply inconceivable.

Not so for Olympia Snowe.

The same can be said of Susan Collins and many others. The desire to watch the world burn is actually bipartisan, though thankfully not a majority opinion, but Olympia Snowe stands out as the one who said that Rome is burning. Rome is burning, our communities are being decimated, people want help, and she'll stand in the way of anyone who tries to provide it.


In the aftermath of the fire Nero was still Nero. His charity and concern for others may have been brought out by the disaster, but it wasn't lasting change.

In some of the land cleared by the fire he built the Domus Aurea, literally "The Golden House." A palace complex with a scale and opulence Rome had never seen. It contained a lake. Not a pool. An artificial lake.

Rome was not a democracy, and they couldn't vote Nero out. Their method for dealing with leadership they didn't like was somewhat more base than that. Nero was murdered; Galba was in. Galba was murdered; Otho was in. Otho was defeated in battle and killed himself; Vitellius was in. Vitellius was captured and killed; Vespasian was in.

It was a busy year.

Vespasian built public buildings where Nero's golden house had been. The Colosseum* being the most famous. Vespasian also raised taxes. And he played up his common origin. He eventually died of natural causes.

*It is actually named the Flavian Amphitheater. The name we know probably comes from the fact that it was near the Colossus of Nero, a massive statue of Nero that later Romans recycled as a statue of the sun god by making a few alterations (the Romans were big on recycling in this way.)

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