I’m sorry. We’re out of paradigms today. Can I get you a zeitgeist?
Peggy Noonan didn’t have much to write about this week…but that didn’t stop her from writing about it. It’s her old standby: everything has changed.
The bookends of her column:
Even though everyone says Sept. 11 changed everything in America, I’m not sure we’ve fully noticed how much it’s changed everything. And here’s a paradox: All that change may well yield a kind of stasis, at least immediately, at least in the midterm elections.
At any rate, the great 2002 paradox: Everything is changing, and not much in this election seems poised to change.
We are suspended.
We are waiting to see if there is a war, waiting to see how the world reacts, waiting to see if the war is simple and clean or long and brutal, waiting to see if the war makes us safer or less safe in the long run or short.
Until then, until the war, one can’t help but expect a continuance of suspension. That’s how it looks to me today at any rate. Movement that brings stasis, action that maintains the status quo. It seems freaky. But it’s a freaky time.
What lies between these passages is a rather thin gruel of loosely connected anecdotes that would qualify as a post-modern novel if there was anything novel about them and the whole piece wasn’t shorter than George Bush’s attention span when Ed, Edd and Eddy is coming on. Many of the subjects she mentions might be worthy of a column of their own, but Peggy is loath to pass on this “America has changed” theme that she so loves to fall back upon.
Part of me wants to agree with the Pegster that America has changed, but that part has to disagree with her on the date. I’m an “America changed on December 9, 2000” kind a guy. That was the day that the Supreme Court decided to stop the vote counting in Florida, casting a permanent shadow on the last branch of government that we thought we could count on. In theory, untainted: in reality, corrupt to the bone. We ceased knowing how our government would work from that point forward because each branch of government went to war with the other, and it seems like we’ve been off-balance ever since. From secret trials to secret meetings, from month-long Presidential vacations to indeterminate sentences, from government by lack of mandate to government by quiet executive orders. Everything is done on the sly now: a subtle rule change here, lobbyists assuming positions without congressional review there, judicial appointees with no paper trail, and if you do want those papers, or any others, be prepared to file a suit for them. It’s all very good-old-boy muddled, done with a wink and a thin-lipped, humorless grin and no need-to-worry-your-pretty-little-head, we know what we are doing. Call it the evil of banality.
If we can’t get passionate, like Peggy says, maybe its because the government won’t tell us what they are doing, and the media is too busy admiring the scenery out the side window of the car, when they should be facing forward and telling us where these people are taking us. They both feed us gloss and sound bites, press releases and dog and pony shows, but nothing we can sink our teeth into. It’s a symbiotic dance we aren’t invited to.
In this way we have changed because our government and the press has taken an odd turn for the worse. Oddly enough, it is George W Bush himself who provides the words that best describe our ambivalence about his own administration:
“When I was coming up, it was a dangerous world, and you knew exactly who they were. It was us vs. them, and it was clear who them was. Today, we are not so sure who the they are, but we know they’re there.â€