Sunday, April 10, 2005

Standing at a crossroads in Springtime


The mercury finally crept past 60 degrees this weekend, and the popping of crocus buds, the crush of colorfully clad cyclists, and the company of neighbors sweeping mounds of snow-truck sand onto the sidewalk all heralded the unofficial arrival of Spring.

If only these sunny days would stay, but the mercury will head south tomorrow and a cold rain could fall by mid-week. This isn’t uniformly bad, I tell myself unconvincingly, because it will give me more undivided time to research fever charts other than the rise and fall of Springtime temperatures. And there are plenty worth tracking. There’s the steady climb of gas prices, which hit a New England record this week and are expected to approach $3 by the height of summer. There’s the stagnant stock market, waiting to see whether President Bush’s proposed steroid shot of individual retirement accounts gets any traction in Congress. And there’s the latest AP-Ipsos poll of presidential popularity, showing the ratings of the president dropping fast and those of the U.S. Congress dropping faster.

Though gas prices and presidential popularity are headed different ways, these charts, of course, are related. The pundits say George W. Bush is suffering because the public doesn’t like the price at the pump and remains suspicious that his efforts to “rescue” Social Security are actually not much more than a payoff for his friends on Wall Street.

I personally can celebrate just about any reason the public is losing faith in George W. Bush. Where have Americans been? From energy policy to education, the war against AIDS to the war in Iraq, gaps in health care to gaps in homeland security, his record falls far short of his rhetoric. And when it comes to talking about freedom while practicing torture, the divide between espoused principles and actual practice makes George Orwell’s “1984” seem muted in its prophecies.

Still, it would be nice if we, as a nation, got exorcised on occasion about something other than our own wallets. Gas prices are high in part because Americans have blithely bombed around in gas-guzzling SUV’s as the tank of world supplies headed toward empty. Stocks are flat because they can’t just keep climbing and climbing and climbing in a universe of borrow and spend, spend and borrow.

I'm not defending his Royal W., just noting that he should be losing popularity for other reasons. One good one is the way in which he revels in a culture of death and twists it into a campaign for a culture of life.

In this Sunday’s New York Times, columnist Frank Rich puts it this way: “Yes, these politicians oppose abortion, but the number of abortions has in fact been going down steadily in America under both Republican and Democratic presidents since 1990 … The same cannot be said of American infant fatalities, AIDS cases and war casualties – all up in the George W. Bush years.”

Also up – way up – is the quotient of righteous religious wrath, exercised by the zealots who wanted to use Jeb Bush’s state police to spring Terri Schiavo from a hospice center, those who don’t hesitate to threaten and impeach any judges who would offer a contrary interpretation of the Constitution, those who believe the final battle, Armageddon, approaches and will gladly crush any sinner not making the journey with them.

These people are out there, and in growing numbers. In a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors on the eve of his retirement, Bill Moyers, the thoughtful, spiritual, and liberal journalist and former presidential adviser, put their numbers at 15 percent of the American population. And their clout is much larger still. It is this zealous right to a large extent that the political pundits are talking about when they use expressions such as “shoring up the president’s base.” And it is they, their dogmatic and uncompromising beliefs, their insistence that the rest of us either tow the line or risk their assaults, that should lead the list of reasons for the president’s declining popularity.

As a “Rolling Stone” headline puts it: “The far right of the evangelical movement has a plan to impose biblical law on every aspect of American society – and the White House is listening.”

How closely the president listens to this group, and its own right wing extreme, known as the Dominionists, will depend, I suspect, on the rest of us. If the American public, in its actions and words, remains the silent majority, satisfied with a seemingly sincere and smiling president as long as he lowers prices at the pump, the squeak of the Dominionists grinding wheel will grow louder. If the Democrats remain passive and meek, the push of Republicans to institutionalize the minority party’s political irrelevance will succeed, stripping from senators the right to filibuster and opening a floodgate through which the activist right will pour. Watch out.

Writes “Rolling Stone,” “Dominionists are pressing an agenda that Makes Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America look like the Communist Manifesto. They want to rewrite schoolbooks to reflect a Christian version of American history, pack the nation’s courts with judges who follow Old Testament law, post the Ten Commandments in every courthouse and make it a felony for gay men to have sex and women to have abortions… Their ultimate goal is to plant the seeds of a ‘faith-based’ government that will endure far longer than the Bush’s presidency.”

Could it happen in America? The point is, it is happening.


Blogger High-builded said...

I'm glad I paid a visit to your site. This is my first comment on your weblog, which I first reached several months ago. Because of the strength of your style and the sharpness of your ideas I bookmarked your site. A chance double-click brought me here today, a happy accident for me, though what follows is a bit of a rambling, overwrought response for you to wade through...

"Also up – way up – is the quotient of righteous religious wrath..."

These are your words, yes? Well said, Mr. Lanson.

Your coinage, which offers the alliteration of three words with an initial "r" sound, accomplishes a goal I heard described by Republican flak Frank "Bighead" Luntz.

On the "Daily Show" with Jon Stewart, Luntz was featured in a segment about Bush's Potemkin Village Social Security Privatization Tour. What you so rightly call its "proposed steroid shot" is offered with a spoonful of sugar. Citing the banners that act as a backdrop to the stages where Bush struts, in his interview Luntz said it is imperative to display only a three-word motto. (Body snatchers can't dither. The "shot" must be heralded by something short and sweet.)

Most important is alliteration, Luntz said. Each word must begin with same initial sound. For example, Luntz, referred to the current three-word catchphrase, "Strengthening Social Security." Doesn't it, he said in so many words, emerge trippingly from the tongue?

Perhaps. But in comparison, "righteous religious wrath" works so much better. It is vivid. It conjures up images of putting "evil doers" to the sword and severed limbs scattered amid Saracen gore.

And your phrase displays a much better sense of sound and meter. No piddling participle such as "strengthening," a half-hearted anapestic metrical foot.Instead, you begin with a strong adjective, a real "righteous" trochee.

The final word of your three-word phrase rings like a gavel blow. "Wrath"--so much more emphatic than "security," with its wisp-of-smoke feminine ending. The word "security" just dribbles away, much like Bush's plan itself. But the word "wrath" resounds for several seconds in the mouth. It lingers on the tongue and in the mind. It leaves an indelible mark, the mark of the beast perhaps, though I'd have to consult the LaHaye Oracle to confirm my hunch.

My command of prosody, meter, and other literary terms isn't what it should be. But even with my dim recall of words from my New Critics grab-bag, I can tell that you are ten times the poet Luntz is. The Bush Medicine Show banner uses weasel words; your words stamp themselves on the memory.

Glad I lingered here. Your entire entry rings true to me.


April 23, 2005 at 11:03 AM  
Blogger Jerry Lanson said...

Dear chronic,

Thanks for the humorous note. All phrases here-in are mine unless quoted from elsewhere. And if I inadvertently managed to mimic Jon Stewart, I'm honored. The guy's funny. Hope to hear from you again. I've long figured I'm writing for myself only.

April 23, 2005 at 1:49 PM  

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