``They were careless people, Tom and Daisy -- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness.'' --F. Scott Fitzgerald, ``The Great Gatsby''
WASHINGTON -- In this season of vast public carelessness, political Toms and Daisys are trashing civic life, making messes and moving on. And there are no large ideas commensurate with, and capable of at least explaining, the institutional damage being done.
In Texas last week, Democratic legislators left the state for a second time in 11 weeks. They fled -- this time to New Mexico; last time to Oklahoma -- to prevent a legislative quorum. Republican legislators want to draw new legislative district lines for the second time since the 2000 census, a mischievous idea already acted on by Colorado Republicans.
This aggression -- which Democrats will feel free to emulate when next they have a majority -- shreds a settled practice that limits to once after each census the bruising business of seeking political advantage through redistricting. Defenders of the Republicans say they are breaking no law -- that the once-a-decade practice is only a custom.
But many of the practices that reduce the friction of life are ``only'' customs. And when the cake of custom crumbles -- it is much easier to break than to bake that cake -- it is replaced either by yet more laws codifying behavior that should be regulated by good manners, or by a permanent increase in society's level of ongoing aggression.
Texas Republicans sought the help of the federal Department of Homeland Security in finding the Democratic emigres in Oklahoma. New Mexico state police guarded their hotel because the Democrats said they thought ``bounty hunters'' might try to drag them back to Texas. Nothing this undignified has happened in American politics for, well, two weeks.
Not since some congressional Republicans called the Capitol Police -- who called the Sergeant at Arms -- to expel Democratic members of the Ways and Means Committee from a House library, where they went to protest the Republicans' demand for action on a 90-page bill the Democrats had not had a chance to read.
Told by a Republican to ``shut up,'' a senior Democrat called the Republican a ``wimp'' and ``fruitcake.'' That probably is better than being called ``irrelevant,'' which is what Nevada's governor called Nevada's Legislature before making it so.