The man be­hind the cur­tain

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Kath­leen Parker Colum­nist Kath­leen Parker’s email ad­dress is kath­leen­[email protected]­

As the na­tion reels from the lat­est round of Pres­i­dent Trump’s im­peach­ment, and an­tic­i­pat­ing a full House vote next week, I’d like to pause and ex­press my ev­er­last­ing grat­i­tude to Ly­man Frank Baum.

If the name doesn’t ring a bell, his work surely will. Baum (18561919) was the au­thor of “The Wiz­ard of Oz,” orig­i­nally ti­tled with an ex­tra word — “Won­der­ful” — pre­ced­ing “Wiz­ard.” A pro­lific writer, Baum ac­tu­ally wrote a se­ries of 14 Oz books, as well as an­other 41 nov­els, 83 short sto­ries, more than 200 po­ems and 42 scripts.

The 1939 film based upon his orig­i­nal Oz novel is fa­mil­iar to ev­ery gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­cans since Judy Gar­land sang her way over the rain­bow and into Munchkin­land. Chil­dren can now watch it ev­ery day, if they like, but when I was a kid in the 1950s, the movie came on tele­vi­sion just once a year. The an­nual fam­ily view­ing in our house was nearly as ex­cit­ing as Christ­mas morn­ing.

Watch­ing “The Wiz­ard of Oz” a few decades later with wee mem­bers of my own fam­ily pro­duced a vi­car­i­ous if more-ma­ture ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the fic­tional el­e­ments: odd-duck char­ac­ters that nev­er­the­less seemed oddly fa­mil­iar; the quite ex­plicit bat­tle be­tween the forces of good and evil; and, to the point of all hu­man ex­is­tence, the pro­found de­sire for Home, which, as you know, isn’t just a place.

But Baum’s bril­liance didn’t fully be­come man­i­fest for me un­til I be­came a (largely) po­lit­i­cal colum­nist and, specif­i­cally, dur­ing the past two im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings to which I’ve borne wit­ness. With­out Baum’s lit­er­ary wiz­ardry, one could hardly com­ment on mod­ern-day pol­i­tics. At least his ex­otic imag­i­na­tion pro­duced help­ful hints about hu­man na­ture and a yel­low-brick roadmap for dis­cov­er­ing char­ac­ter.

Thus, when the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee passed two ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment Fri­day morn­ing, I half-ex­pected Munchkins to pop out from un­der over­sized mush­rooms and pots of flow­ers to pro­claim the Wicked One (nearly) dead.

Even back in Baum’s day, a few com­men­ta­tors tried to ex­tract po­lit­i­cal mes­sages from the novel, which also be­came a suc­cess­ful Broad­way play be­fore be­ing adapted to film. Were there pop­ulist mes­sages therein? A Repub­li­can, Baum re­port­edly didn’t sup­port the pop­ulist move­ment of 1890-92, though he was a strong ad­vo­cate for women’s suf­frage. His fealty to equal­ity per­haps pro­duced Dorothy Gale, who surely was among our ear­li­est ad­ven­ture-girls.

In 1998, when Bill Clin­ton was im­peached by the House (he was ac­quit­ted by the Se­nate), my thoughts in­evitably turned to Oz, where sim­i­lar­i­ties seemed al­most pre-or­dained. Clin­ton was the wiz­ard, blow­ing (cigar) smoke from his lit­tle hid­den of­fice be­hind the heav­ily draped Oval Of­fice. Mon­ica Lewin­sky was Dorothy, whose blue ging­ham dress turned solid navy; Democrats were the fly­ing mon­keys; and the witches I leave to you.

Like­wise, to­day, there’s no es­cap­ing Oz, though the lat­est char­ac­ters may be even bet­ter cast than those be­fore. Of note, the armies of good and evil have switched sides, with Repub­li­cans rep­re­sent­ing the dark forces this time and Democrats the moral rec­ti­tude of Munchkins.

Trump is sur­pass­ing as the Wiz­ard of Oz — the car­ni­val­bark­ing im­poster who re­ally has no mag­i­cal pow­ers but has fooled Emerald City’s ci­ti­zens into be­liev­ing he does. The me­dia, nat­u­rally, are the fly­ing mon­keys, and the Wicked Witch of the East, well, again I leave this to you. De­pend­ing on one’s pol­i­tics, the Good Witch of the North, Glinda, may be ei­ther Ivanka Trump or Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Rudy Gi­u­liani plays the Wiz­ard’s gate­keeper, ob­vi­ously. The Cowardly Lion, the heart­less Tin Man and the empty-headed Scare­crow are, re­spec­tively — oh, this is too much fun — Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C.; Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.; and Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.

Aunty Em and Un­cle Henry would be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Joe Bi­den. Toto, alas, is Co­nan the hero-dog, who pulls back the cur­tain to re­veal the dis­hon­est Trump. In the fi­nal mo­ments, the dis­graced Wiz­ard, in­com­pe­tent as ever, loses con­trol of his pri­vate bal­loon and aban­dons poor Dorothy to find her own way home.

Seek­ing such par­al­lels isn’t only cock­tail-hour en­ter­tain­ment but also helps one nav­i­gate the drama around us. In as­sign­ing roles, it is nec­es­sary to eval­u­ate the char­ac­ter of par­tic­i­pants and their con­scious or un­con­scious mo­ti­va­tions. There are only so many sorts of con­flicts and res­o­lu­tions in the an­nals of hu­man be­hav­ior.

Baum has some­how man­aged to make them both ac­ces­si­ble and time­less.

This was his true ge­nius, for which we — and fu­ture his­to­ri­ans — re­main ever in his debt.

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