No, I’m talking about Slinky’s latest departures from the truth. We’ve outsourced that to Steve Benen.

I’m talking about Aesop.

I ran into a reprint of V.S. Vernon Jones’s lean, muscular 1912 translation, incorporating 284 tales. The level is sufficiently uneven to make me doubt that there was a single “Aesop.” Or maybe he was a collector rather than a composer of the tales that go by his name. A majority strike me as rather pointless.

But I counted no fewer than sixteen that have become proverbial: sour grapes, grasping the nettle, the wolf in sheep’s clothing, the ass in the lion’s skin, the oak and the reeds, King Log and King Stork, belling the cat, the lion’s share, hic Rhodos, hic saltus, the goose that laid the golden eggs, crying wolf, counting your chickens, the dog in the manger, the tortoise and the hare, and blowing hot and cold, and “only one, but that a lion.” Add to that the bundle of sticks representing fraternal loyalty, the father who gets his sons to till the vineyard well by telling them there’s treasure buried there, and Androcles and the lion, and that’s a remarkable hit-rate. (Neither the Brothers Grimm nor the Book of Proverbs, for example, does nearly as well.)

But it was a twentieth story that made me think of the Richie Rich for President campaign, and not in a good way. The story of the grasshopper and the ant creeped me out when I encountered it in grade school and it continues to creep me out to this day. For those who have been spared it, here’s the short version:

A grasshopper who was starving in the depth of winter came to an ant and asked him for some grain to keep him alive. The ant asked him, “What were you doing all summer, while I was gathering food?” The grasshopper said, “Why, I was singing and making merry in the sunshine.” “Well,” replied the ant, “if you sang in the summer, you can dance in the winter.”

In other words, “Go ahead and starve, and let me laugh at you and feel morally superior to you while I’m laughing.” That’s the whole emotional basis of the Republican “takers vs makers” appeal. And it still makes me feel sick when I encounter it.

While the Republican punditocracy is casting about for an explanation of what now seems likely to be a defeat, one candidate might be that there simply isn’t a voting majority of heartless prigs.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

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Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.