THERE ARE innumerable theories about what ails this great nation. We are soft, unproductive, under-educated, television-addicted, nonvoting, racist sexual harassers.
I beg to differ. While we may be afflicted to some degree by all of the above, our greatest handicap of late is that we have become a nation of whiners. Our first reaction to any sort of difficulty is to emit a sound like a chain saw cutting barbed wire. Then we scurry about desperately seeking scapegoats. We are no longer interested in finding solutions but in assessing blame.
Take the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the Clarence Thomas nomination to the Supreme Court. Almost everyone thinks the senators proved themselves to be a windy bunch of partisan chuckleheads. Maybe so, but that's what we pay them to be. Notice I didn't say vote for them to be, since more than half of the whiners probably didn't vote for their senators and couldn't name both of them to save their lives.
Now that the Thomas controversy and the '91 elections are over (except, God help us, for Louisiana), I believe the Senate's next order of business should be to address the issue of runaway whining. People who vote should be issued official documentation of same. And those who don't shall now and henceforth, until such time as they manage to drag their complaining posteriors to the polls, cease and desist from whining. Those who violate this new statute will be required to watch C-Span during prime time.
Or perhaps offenders should be sentenced to read H.L. Mencken's eight-page treatise entitled "The Politician." (Never mind that making Americans read eight whole pages of anything other than a mail-order catalog would quickly be judged cruel and unusual punishment.) Written in 1924, the piece makes a point which is remarkably topical, to wit: We Americans suffer under the delusion that "politicians are divided into two classes, and that one of those classes is made up of good ones."
It follows from this revelation that our alleged leaders, as is the case with beef cattle, should not be allowed to roam about unrestrained. There is no quicker way for a herd of statespersons to run amok than for the rest of us to leave them to their own devices.
I am embarrassed to report that my home state of Connecticut, once a hotbed of rebellion, now harbors a burgeoning colony of bellyachers. So, according to press reports reaching me, does Maryland. Tens of thousands of screaming, spitting malcontents besieged the Capitol in Hartford to complain about a recently passed state income tax. To be sure, times are not good, but Connecticut residents still enjoy the highest per capita income of any state.
In most countries, the vast majority of us Nutmeggers would be )) considered obscenely wealthy. And yet we bitch and moan as if we are the wretched of the Earth. This would be silly enough, but consider this: A year ago we had a chance to elect a candidate as governor who insisted unequivocally that he wouldn't impose an income tax. In a three-way race, he garnered only 38 percent of the vote. Hey, who knows what would have happened if voting were as easy as spitting?
We'll squawk about anything these days. We complain about sports stars who make millions of dollars -- as if we would accept anything less in their position. Conversely, multimillionaire athletes bawl that they aren't being paid enough, or at least as much as some other spoiled brat on some other team. We whine about the Japanese for outworking and outproducing us and try to pin the blame on their trade practices.
For all our bleating, you'd think we were living in Yugoslavia, couldn't vote and didn't have a VCR in our home entertainment complex. Henry David Thoreau, who was a world-class whiner himself, would remind us: "That man is richest whose pleasures are cheapest." And that may be at the heart of what seems most astonishing about this land of milk and honey: We just don't seem particularly happy, do we?
David Holahan writes from East Haddam, Conn.