Rout of the Rebel Angels, by William Blake

A Dog Starv'd

A dog starv'd at his master's gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.
      -- William Blake,
     "Auguries of Innocence"

Monday, April 7, 2008

Smart No More

Let's talk about stupidity -- political stupidity.

Maybe "stupidity" is too harsh a word. I certainly don't mean the charming, they-probably-meant-it-as a joke naivete of whoever named the group which recently conducted a peace vigil here in North Florida, Tallahasseeans Who Believe It's Time to Come Home. Right, that group: the one whose acronym spells out Tallahasseeans Who BITCH.

No, this is a different -- more insidious -- sort of willful ignorance.

The cliché used to be that conservative Republicans were the hard-headed pragmatists and realists who spoke with their brains. Democrats were squishy bleeding hearts who spoke viscerally and simply didn't understand how the real world works.

These days, the cliché has been inverted.

What got me thinking about this was an email message I recently received. It was an email which evidently originated, in the way of most politically inclined email, from an unknown someone in the dawn of prehistory. (He probably painted it on a cave wall.) Not all the names in the chain of recipients had been snipped as the message made its way through the Internet's population. I recognized many of them as those who in the past circulated other emails extolling the folk wisdom of commentators like Mr. Limbaugh and Ms. Coulter.

So I was surprised to read through this message and see that former Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca seemed to have many of the same ideas as those familiar names did.

And really, it was a masterpiece of invective along the lines of the tirade from the fictional Howard Beall in the movie "Network": I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!

The title: Where Have All the Leaders Gone? It took to task big business. It reamed Congress, and (as the expression goes) tore a new one for politicians in general. It even -- whoa! -- referred to "some bonehead on Fox News."

My pulse rate rose. Was I witnessing an exciting dawn of clear-headed thinking? Er, no. I was witnessing another cloudy day along the occluded front which passes for way too much right-wing "thinking."

See, while Chairman Lee did in fact write all those things -- they're from the first pages of his 2007 book by the same title -- they're not the ONLY things he wrote in those opening pages.

Carefully excised from the original are (hold your breath) all references to the President.

For instance, the message includes this quote: "On September 11, 2001, we needed a strong leader more than any other time in our history. We needed a steady hand to guide us out of the ashes."

In Iacocca's book, those two sentences were followed immediately by:
Where was George Bush? He was reading a story about a pet goat to kids in Florida when he heard about the attacks. He kept sitting there for twenty minutes with a baffled look on his face. It's all on tape. You can see it for yourself. Then, instead of taking the quickest route back to Washington and immediately going on the air to reassure the panicked people of this country, he decided it wasn't safe to return to the White House. He basically went into hiding for the day -- and he told Vice President Dick Cheney to stay put in his bunker. We were all frozen in front of our TVs, scared out of our wits, waiting for our leaders to tell us that we were going to be okay, and there was nobody home. It took Bush a couple of days to get his bearings and devise the right photo op at Ground Zero.
I don't know about you, but that is what I call incisive commentary. It sure boosted Lee Iacocca in my esteem. And it's only one of the many passages naming Bush which were likewise stripped from this email message.

What a shame that someone -- an unknown someone, to be sure -- decided that the President needed to be shielded from Iacocca's inconvenient opinions.

What a shame that that someone decided his original correspondents' fragile sensibilities needed to be shielded as well.

And what a shame that none of those correspondents, all down the line, took it upon themselves to actually look into the veracity of what they had swallowed but simply passed it along, clucking their tongues.

What a shame that this is what passes for political wisdom among too many people. None of those I know in the addressee list, by the way, is the least bit stupid. They're engineers, attorneys, business owners, government officials. They're nice people, to boot. People with loving families, with senses of humor.

But man: present them with a political issue and their wits just abandon them. Taking -- it must be said -- their hearts with them.

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