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.


  1. nswfm says:

    Surely these jerkoffs will get away with it, and a hefty bonus from their corrupt Boards of Directors. MoFos. But I do like Senator Warren and her very intelligent daughter, too. The daughter lives southeast of me.

  2. dirigo says:

    Related to this is the perennially bogus argument that the national budget is like the one we all (supposedly) argue about the livelong day in our kitchens, presided over by hectoring parents (Eat your leftovers! How do you think we’ll EVER be able to afford to pay for our comprehensive, coast-to-coast, fully air conditioned, high-speed rail system?).

    Lawrence O’Donnell referred to this last week while he opined on the steak and salad summit hosted by the president, where among other things, some senators, while snifting brandy with ‘da Man, discovered that he’s a human. Like them.

    Anyway, O’Donnell said he hoped John Boehner would begin to back away from the “baby talk” about how family and public budgets are more or less equivalent exchange mechanisms.

    That’ll be the day.

    The problem is and always has been the J. Wellington Wimpys of the world who will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today. Just depends whether they want Freedom Fries with it or not.

    • cocktailhag says:

      If I had a nickel for every time a Democrat (!), especially the President, trotted out the “family budget” garbage, I’d put them all in a tube sock and hurl it through a White House window.
      Honestly, the hogwash that ends up shaping out lives…..

      • dirigo says:

        This false equivalence, at least in modern terms, all came out of Maggie Thatcher’s handbag. It’s said she read Hayak by candlelight, and his books probably added heft to the bag (on top of the cobblestone in it), to wave at commies and socialists in ways Lady Bracknell could not have imagined.

        Our shame as a nation is that Nancy Reagan failed to stand up to Ronnie’s flirtation with Maggie when the opportunity presented itself (and, sadly for Maggie, as soon as she introduced Ronnie to that commie leader with the birthmark on his head, she was toast anyway).

        Just think of how many sunny breakfasts we might otherwise have enjoyed with, say, Peggy Noonan and other similarly inclined notables had the kabosh been put on these demented romances at their creation.

  3. Ajmccarter says:

    Thank you for this. Joan is smiling about now.

    • cocktailhag says:

      She did try to get “Surely” as a vanity plate, but it was taken. She settled for “Listen.” At times like these, I do wish she were around. Sigh.

  4. Julie B says:

    Using “surely” is an excellent tactic to use with people who don’t have much of a conscience. It moves past the “I/you/blame” conversation and goes straight to being a judgment about the other person’s behavior that they can’t wriggle out of. Children, of course, are still developing their conscience, but it works just as well with adults who never grew up.