Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Sober Moment in the Drunken Fray

I wanted to post about this when I read it but it has become even more poignant as I sit around embroiled, once again, in fighting my leftist friends over the severe shortcomings and dangers of Obama, and--simultaneously--reprimanding my rightist friends for being too simplistic. This is a royal hack of a characterization, to be sure, but such is the violence of quick-fire prose.

Nonetheless, I was sitting with my son this afternoon at the tire shop trying to keep track of his whereabouts and make it through some recent issues of Newsweek. While reading through the tiresome, haven't-I-read-this-a-million-times-already? pages of Newsweek, my mind wandered to a recent, tearful evening I spent with my favorite journal, First Things.

Their most recent edition, honoring the memory of Richard John Neuhaus, was one of the most genuine, sane, and sober things I have read in print to date. Now, anyone who knows me and my sense of politics knows that I slam First Things a lot and disagree with a great deal of their erudite founder's ideas. But, make no mistake, the outpouring from every side of the global political spectrum was moving, to say the least.

It reminded me of the days that I am told that public dialogue was fierce as ever, but still had sanity to spare. In the U.S., these were the days (or, so I am told) when the Civil Rights Act--that Neuhaus bravely marched in support of--was squared off between the political aisle on the basis of activism or gradualism from the coherent philosophies of conservatism (a la Goldwater) and liberalism (a la New Deal progeny and friends). Those days are gone. If anything, LBJ's nasty campaign killed what was left of it. But not everywhere, not for everyone.

I am quick to assert that any self-respecting leftist (or whatever) ought to engage with the serious and smart ideas that come from the coherent, self-proclaimed right. The problem is that next to Pat Buchanan (a man I respect but, more often than not, rabidly disagree with) sits Monica Crowley who fills in for Laura Ingram (the new guard of the Limbaugh and company types) from time to time. Now, the so-called liberals have their lion's hare of wackos too and, to their discredit, their discussions are worse than stale, more often than not they seem flat out rancid.

So, if I have to sit in a serious discussion on public affairs, give me the likes of a Neuhaus any day--conservative warts and all. It is a shame that he will only live on in his voluminous writings from here on out. And, even worse, there don't seem to be many replacements easily found--on either side--in the druken fray that is public discourse in the U.S. It is my hope, however, that the virtues of catholic (that's for you Ian) dialogue could bring us some smarties out of the ranks of the public Church to help things out.

To put it another way: I pray for the day that dialogue will happen somewhere, anywhere, in a way that is elevated from the simple--and all to convenient for the status quo--rubrics of U.S. political identity.

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