by P.M. Carpenter Oct 15 2007 - 9:40am
Frank Rich's underlying point about us, "the Good Germans"
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For my money, the New York Times' Frank Rick stands unrivaled among the commentariat in eloquence, perspicacity and formidability, and he confirms his singularity virtually every week. He manages to articulate rage with a calm, surgical style that paradoxically intensifies the reader's preexisting rage -- something most of the vast and sympathetic blogosphere has yet to comprehend, and something most of Rich's print colleagues are simply incapable of matching.
I suspect it was the years he spent as a theatre critic, examining the smallest of performance nuances to gauge a play's worthiness, that made the titanic absurdities of politics such a comparative cinch for him.
Yesterday morning Rich offered a repeat tour de force, in "The 'Good Germans' Among Us."
I won't quote at length, since it is far more informative to just read his column. But his theme is this: "It’s time to confront the darker reality that we are lying to ourselves.... By any legal standards ... we are practicing torture.... I have always maintained that the American public was the least culpable of the players during the run-up to Iraq," but, laments Rich, "As the war has dragged on, it is hard to give Americans en masse a pass. We are too slow to notice, let alone protest, the calamities that have followed the original sin."
In hammering at the point, Rich nails it: "We can continue to blame the Bush administration for the horrors of Iraq -- and should.... But we must also examine our own responsibility for the hideous acts committed in our name."
Rich rightly doesn't dismiss the top-down-driven contours of our "democratic failure," citing a swindling White House and "the powerful institutions [Congress and the press] that should have provided the checks, balances and due diligence of the administration’s case," but "failed to do their job."
A few, however, in both Congress and the press, did not fail. They hollered and squalled and bellowed from the rooftops. Rich was among them, as was I and a few thousand other irate scribblers, and one recalls as well the heated admonitions of such prescient political voices as Sen. Robert Byrd.
But the collective readership, viewers and listeners? -- the "We"? Rich notes: "The debate [was] labeled 'politics.' We turn[ed] the page."
And that, right there, spotlights, underscores and isolates the deeper problem -- the collective but imprecise use of "we." Every commentator is guilty of it, especially moi. It's simply impossible to analyze in 600 words or 2000 the assorted outrages of national behavior without lumping starkly opposite poles together. "We" condoned this idiotic war, so we are ultimately responsible for it and all the miserable fallout.
Except there are 300 million different we's, each with different motives, different psyches, different backgrounds, different resources, different internal cultures -- different everything that makes up the individuated and complicated human. Some are stupid, some are smart; some are educated, some are not (and there is a difference). What "we" means, I haven't a clue.
But I can guarantee you my absolute knowledge of one thing: Each and every one of us believes we're doing what's best for ourselves, no matter how we arrived at that belief. And in this country -- in fact, it is by now a worldwide phenomenon -- that means consumerism, and with it, boatloads of distraction from humanity's common condition.
The real geniuses are those who drive that consumerism. They tell us that a more versatile cell phone and a wider TV will make us happy at long last, and, being unhappy, we give it a go. (I know, I'm back to committing we-ism, but it's the only we-ism that I and whole communities of political sociopsychologists can comfortably identify.)
The realization of the deeper (but far less profitable) pleasures of reading a book, or painting a picture, or educating a child simply never occur to most of us, because we're too busy getting happy. It fills the ever-expanding void created by the most recent failure of happiness creation.
Still, some of us do realize that there are higher and more rewarding experiences in life than having bragging rights around the watercooler to the latest in TV technology and the newest car.
Maybe we're the boneheads. Maybe we're the ones who can't see, or can't accept, that all life's pleasures are fleeting, and that struggling for the betterment of humanity is the most long-term of emotionally self-defeating propositions. There, I'm back to territory of the unknown.
But when Frank Rich says "Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war," and that "it's up to us to wake up our somnambulant Congress to challenge administration policy every day," he's not talking about the "we" -- he's talking about the aforementioned us, the materialistically un-preoccupied minority, and one likely to remain such for untold generations to come.
In short, he's talking only, and loosely but pointedly, about the much-disparaged, right-wing whipping boy of the intellectual elite -- and by that I mean those who are intellectually engaged; those who reside on Main Street, not merely in ivory towers. Everyone else is too busy -- to the right's unending gratification and its own causation -- with the distractions of consumerism to be bothered, which is what got us into this mess in the first place._______