“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
The familiar line from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians came to mind as I read David Brooks’ (NYT) and George Will’s (Washington Post) columns both syndicated in the Star Advertiser 10/18/10. David Brooks’ reasonableness is far easier on one’s digestive tract than Will’s smug pronouncements that have all the hallmarks of approaching curmudgeonry. Both however point in different ways to behavior that paints an unflattering view of voters and suggests that in this season at least, “man” has not put away the tantrums, the petulance or the narcissism of the “child.”
Brooks makes the case, with regret, that the intensity of wanting to win makes otherwise impressive candidates “put themselves in a position in which everybody is inclined to believe the worst about them. . . . The accomplishments fade from view.” He questions how many truly talented people will, in the future, be willing to subject themselves to the process of getting elected. Brooks also cites David Frum’s observation that instead of trying to weigh “the good against the bad and reach some measured judgment” voters often “regard candidates the way adolescents regard parents: if they are not perfect, then they must be irredeemable.”
That seems to be the lens through which Will views President Obama. Will takes several apoplectic paragraphs to call out President Obama for saying that he “learned” that the Chamber of Commerce takes in foreign money. “That is a fib,” he thunders, questioning when exactly the President knew that this was happening.
There are Fibs and then there are FIBS.
There are much larger fictions and sheer nonsense flying around fast and loose from the lips of such Republican titans as Mitch McConnell and Newt Gingrich and neo-cranks like Sharon Angle about healthcare, non-existent syariah law in Dearborn, the President’s faith, the stimulus money that Republicans want for their districts to create jobs even as they declare (as Scott Brown did) that “the stimulus did not create one job.” But these deliberate lies apparently do not move Will in the same way or stir him at least for reasons of intellectual integrity to cry: “That is a fib!”
Would Politicians Want Their Children to Emulate Their Behavior?
It is a strange thing to watch grown men and women engaging in behavior on the very public stage of politics that they would tell their children is wrong in school, on the playground or at work. Why do candidates with stellar records of public service feel the need to embellish needlessly? Why do candidates with no record of public service or proven competence in any field presume to think they can run for some of the highest public offices in the land?
This is not ambition. It is delusion. Being “mad at Washington” or wanting to “throw the bums out “ are not qualifications for public office. We would not let our children believe that becoming student body president or an ace athlete or an A student are things that are within their grasp if they were just mad enough at the other contenders, or were willing to take performance-enhancing drugs or cheat on the test. So why would voters tolerate the tantrums and histrionics, the stunning unabashed declarations of ignorance and bigotry that we are asked to accept as political “debate” and candidate platforms.
If our children behave badly, we take it personally. It is equally true that if those who would lead us in our political and religious institutions behave badly, if they lie and cheat and mis-represent who they are and use the tenets of faith to discriminate and we let them get away with it, we should take that personally too. Acquiescence –even by our silence—makes us complicit.
In his introduction to Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts, Clive James points out: “Whatever we say is bound to be dependent on what has been said before.” His rich book draws on many voices across geography, culture and time.
“Some of the voices are talking murder while thinking it to be medicine. Others, the blessed ones, are talking reason. Almost always it is because they know their own limitations.”
Less Amnesia, More Adult Behavior Perhaps?
In this season of crazy rhetoric unmoored from the facts we need less amnesia. Voters, once euphoric about electing a President committed to the principles of social justice that are fundamental to true Christianity, are letting themselves be overcome by disappointment that change has not been fast enough or big enough for each person’s taste. We need more adult recognition of the unprecedented magnitude of the challenges this President has faced and his demonstrated commitment to bridging the great divides, especially the one that separates the haves from the have nots.
Again, Clive James reminds us that “George Orwell thought, and said, that the bourgeoisie was the enemy of the proletariat, until the practical evidence persuaded him that anyone who believed the two classes could not be reconciled was the deadly enemy of both.”
President Obama believes in reconciliation. He believes, some say naively, in the possibility of getting people of different persuasions to work together. The GOP has said “No” with a steadfast, declared obduracy. They have invoked God and nation to challenge programs that help those who most need that help. They have inextricably knotted together allegiance to God and nation and inserted private faith into the secular public space of government through a faux-Christianity and a zealotry that should be alien to anyone whose faith is founded on the injunction that to love God, one must love one’s neighbor. Through deliberate, repeated mis-representation of the facts, they may well persuade voters to act against their own working/middle class interests while serving the agendas of the rich and powerful.
It’s time to call out ALL the fibs and to put away childish things. It might also be a genuinely Christian thing to do.