I went to dinner Saturday night at a popular DC political watering hole. I’d never been there before. The atmosphere was so heavy and the mood of the room so strange it was hard to concentrate.

“It’s Paths of Glory, and these are the trenches,” said my dinner companion.

I had no idea what that meant.

“You know, Stanley Kubrick, World War I — the generals know it’s a suicide mission but they don’t care.  They think they might get a promotion so they send the troops in anyway. But the troops won’t go, so the generals start firing on their own men in the trenches.”

Yep, that was it was it: fear. Icy cold fingers up your back, smell-of-death fear.

“You mean over the health care bill?  I said.  “Because they’re forcing everyone to sacrifice themselves and take the vote.”

“Yep.”

I’d had dinner with another Democratic operative the night before who referred to it as “sati” (where the widow of a deceased Hindu would throw herself on her husband’s funeral pyre, either voluntarily or by force).

“That’s funny,” I said, “I’ve been calling it ‘Jonestown.’ But “Paths of Glory” — the generals — much more apt.”

As I recall, in the movie they wind up shooting one soldier for his “cowardice” as a lesson to them all.

There were a few oily chislers in the restaurant who added a cheap, edgy euphoria to the atmosphere, destined as they were to make a buck off the proceedings.  But the sad, desperate thing about the entire affair is just how low rent it all is.  No robber barons or captains of industry here:  just the errand boys to power who are easily bought for pennies on the dollar.

If this is the best we can do after the nation pours its collective hope into something, it really is the end of empire.  And everyone in town, at one level or another, seems to know it.

Update: Per selise, it appears the role of the “one soldier” has already been cast.