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December 23, 2009

The Lottery Congressional Style

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Monday was the darkest day of the year and that’s not just because the ignoramus, cataclysmic, health care reform bill in Congress passed another procedural test just minutes after 1 A.M. in the U.S. Senate by a vote of 60 Democrats to 40 Republicans.


As a nation, the dark-of-the-night procedural vote in the cold snow-bound nation’s capital was as if our great nation has won the lottery – as in the 1948 classic “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson.


If you will recall, Mrs. Jackson’s short story was first published in The New Yorker, on June 26, 1948. It depicted a dark, cold, and bone-chilling tale which peeled away the layers of everyday life to reveal the chaos and presence of evil underneath.


Almost 50 years after her death, the literary world was excited when it was announced in 1996 that incredibly, a box of unpublished manuscripts by Mrs. Jackson had been discovered in a barn behind her former residence in North Bennington, VT.


These materials were quickly published in “Just an Ordinary Life.” Paula Guran penned a wonderful review, “Delight in What I Fear,” of the collection for OMNI Online in April 1997.


Ms. Guran may as well had been explaining the motivations of the Democrat leadership in Congress when she introduced her review with a remark in unsent letter to poet Howard Nemerov by Mrs. Jackson:


“...I have always loved to use fear, to take it and comprehend it and make it work and consolidate a situation where I was afraid and take it whole and work from there...I delight in what I fear.”


The Democrat leadership in Congress reminds me of Ms. Guran’s description…


“Horror writers, when you meet them, are a pretty nice bunch. They can breathe the stench of evil, reach out and touch wickedness, because there is good and innocence in their lives to counter it. In fact, I suspect there's more freedom to explore the depths of depravity if you know the siren call of …” – you fill-in the blank…


“Without a lifeline forged of balance, responsibility, and the need to find shin pads to bring you back from the abyss, you might never venture close enough to the edge to know its monstrous depths,” Ms. Guran explained.


Isn’t that wonderful description of Congress today?


Actually, it was Ms. Guran’s description of “The Lottery” that made me think of what our nation “won” in the election of November 2008.”


“Shirley Jackson had the lifeline and knew the abyss. Her best-known work, ‘The Lottery,’ still disturbs us deeply even though it has been required reading in American schools for at least two generations.


“In the story the people of a small New England town gather for an annual ritual, a lottery. This festive event is smoothly run according to tradition by the town fathers.


“As with any traditional event, there is some grousing that ‘It's not the way it used to be,’ but it seems that it pretty much is. A winning family is announced and then its members go through yet another lottery. The family's mother is democratically selected and, as she feebly protests, is methodically murdered as the community and her own family stone her to death.”


Many have reacted to the seeming inevitability that Congress will actually pass the oxymoronic health care reform legislation in the same manner in which “The Lottery” was received by the public in 1948.


“Readers reacted as if a bomb had exploded in their living rooms. Over the years ‘The Lottery’ has been interpreted as a modern myth, an attack on institutionalized prejudice, an indictment of the Holocaust, a Marxist-feminist analogy. But more than anything it is just a story written by a gifted and contradictory woman who understood how caring people could also throw stones.”


The health care initiative currently meandering its way through Congress on its way to the desk of President Barack Obama is best understood as “how caring people could also throw stones.”


Increasingly, a thread of commentary is beginning to be weaved into our analysis of the events, which have transpired since the November 2008 election that our nation is in decline.


It may take the hindsight of two generations to make that determination and yet hopefully, next year, our nation will come to its senses and change directions in the elections of 2010.


Monday was also, of course, the day of the winter solstice and the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and the United States – in more ways than one. 


I hope you had a meditative winter solstice. We have lots of work to do next year.


For now, celebrate your family, our community, and your friends and loved ones, and have a Merry Christmas.


Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at


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