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Zer Netmouse
October 20th, 2003
10:26 pm


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I just typed up a long quote for a post on TNH's Making Light weblog, and I thought I would mirror my post here:

The political cynicism part of this thread reminded me that there is a particularly good Editorial by Lewis Lapham In the current issue of Harpers Magazine. (Unfortunately you can only get last month's issue online, so I can't link to it, but I'll quote it in part.) He's responding to letters, and says that he takes from the mail "a feeling of encouragement and hope because I think the letters prove a point opposite to the one their authors intend."

The humor and energy of the prose give lie to the professions of cynicism and despair, and I'm left with the thought that maybe it's possible to upgrade the concern for the country's state of well-being from a luxory to a necessity. For the last twenty-odd years, ever since Ronald Reagan first opened his window on the White House lawn to discover that once again it was "morning in America," the merchants of the country's upscale socioeconomic opinion have been reminding their clientele that politics no longer matter. ... the financial markets ... made all the decisions of any consequence or size; politicians handed around the party hats and hired the mariachi band.


The media's extravagant cross-promotions of the synthetic debate sedate their audiences with the drug of boredom and so encourage a general retreat into what the late Walter Karp understood to be "the corrupting consolation of cynicism." Karp employed the phrase to describe the attitude of mind adopted by a generation of American intellectuals responding to the Wilson administration's harsh suppression of free speech during World War I. Finding themselves suffocated by a climate of opinion in which dissent was disloyal and disloyalty a crime, a good many independent-minded and once outspoken citizens acquired the habit of looking at the national political scene from the point of view of spectators at a tenement fire or a train wreck. As compensation for their loss of a public voice, they retreated to a library or a lawn party to comfort themselves with private and literary expressions of anger and disgust.

The attitude is one that I've encountered often enough in myself to know that it leads nowhere except to the sucking of stale and bitter lemons, to know also that it is the cynical politician's most precious asset and truest friend. Yes, say the gentlemen in power, exactly right, the world is a truly terrible place, overflowing with venal bankers and bearded terrorists, and you, my dear fellow, you are so sensitive and smart that it would be a crime to squander your talent in the sewer of politics ...

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Date:October 21st, 2003 09:51 am (UTC)
Hmm, I saw an article, not exactly along the same lines, but it reminds me of it, because Trudeau has retreated much like the author of your quote feared people would. Doonesburied: The decline of Garry Trudeau -- and of baby boom liberalism takes Trudeau to task for his declining relevance and declining merit, something I have really noticed since I started reading it again on my online journal. Doonesbury was really popular when I was at Harvard in '81, and I liked it back then. The article says, "I disagree with Trudeau about gun control, but I still think the first strip [1981] is funny. The second one [1993] just hectors us. It isn't controversial so much as it's annoying." Another example was this past Sunday. I actually agree with Trudeau that war in Iraq had nothing to do with terrorism, but he just had his main characters preach at us, and it had all the originality of a hollywood car crash.
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