Friday, December 01, 2006

Peggy Noonan Channels Rush...

...the band, that is.

She observes a plague that has spread like Typhoid throughout Washington and Main Street. She's diagnosed it as a lust for dominance. Her prescription? Grace.

Politicians will need to interact with one another with more grace.

The public will need to treat each other with more grace.

People often speak of an absence of civility in Washington, but that's not quite the problem. Faking civility is a primary operating style: "My esteemed colleague."

What is needed is grace--sensitivity, mercy, generosity of spirit, a courtesy so deep it amounts to beauty. We will have to summon it. And the dreadful thing is you can't really fake it.

A very small theory, but my latest, is that many politicians and journalists lack a certain public grace because they spent their formative years in the American institution most likely to encourage base assumptions and coldness toward the foe. Yes, boarding school, and tony private schools in general. The last people with grace in America are poor Christians and religiously educated people of the middle class. The rich gave it up as an affectation long ago. Too bad, since they stayed in power.

The latest example of a lack of grace in Washington is the exchange between Jim Webb and President Bush at a White House Christmas party. Mr. Webb did not want to pose with the president and so didn't join the picture line. Fair enough, everyone feels silly on a picture line. Mr. Bush approached him later and asked after his son, a Marine. Mr. Webb said he'd like his son back from Iraq. Mr. Bush then, according to the Washington Post, said: "That's not what I asked you. How's your son?" Mr. Webb replied that's between him and his son.

For this Mr. Webb has been roundly criticized. And on reading the exchange I thought it had the sound of the rattling little aggressions of our day, but not on Mr. Webb's side. Imagine Lincoln saying, in such circumstances, "That's not what I asked you." Or JFK. Or Gerald Ford!

"That's not what I asked you" is a sentence straight from cable TV, from which many Americans are acquiring an attitude toward public and even private presentation.

Our interviewers and anchors have been taught, or learned, that they must show who's in charge, who's demanding answers, who's uncompromising in his search for truth. But of course they're not in search of truth; they're on a search for dominance.

Interviewers now always, as you have noticed, interrupt the person they're interviewing. Yes, they are trying to show who's in control of this conversation, and yes, they're trying to catch the interviewee off guard in hope of making news. They are attempting to keep trained and practiced politicians from launching unfruitful filibusters and boring everyone.

But interviewers also interrupt their subjects because they don't want the camera on the subject. They want the camera on themselves. They interrupt to keep the camera where it belongs. If they don't, the camera will stay on the interviewee and not the journalist, which will not help the journalist rise. They know their bosses, after all. They do not want the boss to say, "What an enlightening interview, who did it?" They want him to say, "You looked great, you were all over that guy, you grilled him!"

There are difficulties with her treatment of this national ailment. We only treat each other with the grace she speaks of when we live genuine humility. We can't and won't do that if we're not living an authentic Faith. The one factor that differentiates humility from humiliation is the reality of God. When we answer his call with our assent--when we live a life of Faith--we walk in his Grace. We truly can see every person we encounter as family because we acknowledge that we all have one Father.

We set aside our lust for dominance because we recognize we're not in charge. We're not the director of the production. We have our role to play.

Without this answer to his call--without a life of Faith--we walk apart from his Grace. We will not treat the people we encounter as family because we have no common Father. We will indulge our lust for dominance because we recognize no authority over us aside from our own ambition. We serve our ego alone.

Our leadership demonstrates that their lives of faith have become twisted by their involvement with ambition. They may genuinely believe; their tragedy is that they have believed in such a way as to compartmentalize their lives. They do not act on their Faith--their actions testify to this.

It's not only our political leadership. Media, Academia, Law: the elites of all of these professions and their institutions exemplify the lust for dominance.

Ms. Noonan must know this. She remains hopeful that the leaders of our society may yet embrace their faith in an invigorating way, so that they can show each other Grace. I hope she's right. My own experience of faith has shown me that one must have a personal experience of encounter with the Exceptional--a facing of mystery, in which life makes sense only in this Mystery's light. Even then, as frail men that have fallen, we'll become consumed by the glamor of the world. We'll depart from our walk of Faith. We can always resume it, however.

The sooner our leadership repents of their own departure, and resumes the journey, the healthier our national discourse may become. We need such a civil and grace-filled dialog now more than ever. Our society faces too many difficulties to indulge in the lust for dominance. Some luxuries just cost too much.

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