The Surely Routine
When I was growing up, my mother had a particularly diplomatic form of reprimand, probably learned as a first grade teacher, that was very effective, so much so that we gave it a name in later years: The Surely Routine.
When Joan would come home from work in the afternoon and find that, contrary to what was expected, no one had cleaned up the breakfast dishes and run the dishwasher, she would turn to whichever layabout was handy and say, in a hopeful tone, “Surely you cleaned up the kitchen so I can make dinner.” Although it was plainly obvious to all concerned that in fact, the kitchen was a disaster of cereal bowls, strewn newspapers, and banana peels, one or more of us would hustle to correct the problem before Joan officially “noticed” and blew a gasket.
When the problem wasn’t so easily fixed, say, when she said “Surely you didn’t wreck my car” or “Surely you didn’t flunk that class,” it then doubled as a Catholic-grade guilt trip for the miscreant in question. We made fun of her for it, as we did about most everything, but as I’ve gotten older I realized what a brilliant tactic it was for dealing with unruly children; it cloaks any anger in fretful disappointment, and emphasizes (quite educationally) the effect one’s errant behavior has on others.
Imagine my delight, five years after Joan’s death, to see the Surely Routine pulled out, with Joan-like repetitiveness, by none other than Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and be reminded that it still works like a charm. Watching the laughable excuses for “regulators” like the ones in this video shift their eyes and hunch their shoulders, just like I did when I was ten, under her volleys of “Let me get this straight,” and worse…. Well it warms my heart.
Of course, such motherly subtlety seems to skip a generation; were I to be in a position to question these corrupt bank fellators, I would undoubtedly handle things differently, but let’s just say not in a way that would broaden my appeal with swing voters. That’s the beauty of the Surely Routine; it’s a form of acting designed, unlike most acting, to create good ends without ruffling too many feathers, whether you’re a working single mother saddled with four brats or a newly elected Senator facing a federal government run amok.
In her position on the Senate Banking Committee, Warren will have many more chances, too many, to haul out the Surely Routine, and I hope she continues to do so. Because unlike Joan, whose children eventually developed an immunity for it, Sen. Warren has a virtually endless supply of scalawags who have yet to wither under the Surely Routine even once. As was plainly evident in this and several previous hearings, a whole lot of them need it.