Sunday, December 31, 2006

Of All the Deaths in 2006 Whom Will You Grieve the Most?

Even though Saddam Hussein’s death is taking up all the room in the mausoleum at the moment, 2006 brought other, more sorrowful deaths.

We have not yet buried our 38th President. Surely in current times no president has been more roundly ridiculed or and deserved it less. Do you remember “the amiable dunce” - a name given him by the later-to-be-disgraced Clark Clifford? Ah, those mills of God. Here’s what Jake Barnes at Spyralnotebook remembers of a family conversation about Ford:

When I think of Gerald Ford, I always think of a comment my uncle made a couple of years after Ford was defeated by Jimmy Carter. We were having a little group rant about media bias and my uncle brought up how the press had portrayed Gerald Ford while he was in the White House.

Ford had been depicted during his presidency as a not too bright, physically spastic guy bumbling along through his presidency. The shot of him tripping on the steps of Air Force One or the story of his golf drive beaning a spectator were repeated over and over until they became national jokes. Chevy Chase made a career of Fordian pratfalls on Saturday Night Live.

But, as my uncle pointed out, Ford was anything but dim. He had been Editor of the Law Review at Yale, a great honor at one of the country’s leading law schools. He worked his way to the highest position in Congress that a Republican could hold at the time. He was a popular and effective leader in congress, and was reelected by large majorities in more than ten congressional elections. Ford had what his predecessor lacked... not only a superior analytical mind, but also a healthy dose of “emotional intelligence”.

And more to the point, Ford was hardly uncoordinated. He was probably the best natural athlete to hold the nation’s highest office. He was a football All-American at the University of Michigan and, in later years, a quite good golfer. I’ll never forget seeing him play at the tournament named in his honor held annually at Vail, Colorado. While in his mid-seventies, he competed well in a field of retired and semi-retired professional golfers.

The way that Gerald Ford was misrepresented by the press is a severe blot on that institution. Ford was a truly honorable man. He made the difficult but necessary decision to pardon Nixon, which he knew his political enemies would use to hinder his reelection. The media will now writing lofty articles about his life and times, but it should not be forgotten how they treated him when it really mattered.

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There was Milton Friedman, in November. To him was said by a member of the Federal Reserve Board: “Regarding the Great Depression. You’re right, we did it. We’re very sorry.”

And how about James Brown?

James Brown has had more honorifics attached to his name than any other performer in music history. He has variously been tagged “Soul Brother Number One,” “the Godfather of Soul,” “the Hardest Working Man in Show Business,” “Mr. Dynamite” and even “the Original Disco Man.” This much is certain: what became known as soul music in the Sixties, funk music in the Seventies and rap music in the Eighties is directly attributable to James Brown. His transformation of gospel fervor into the taut, explosive intensity of rhythm & blues, combined with precision choreography and dynamic showmanship, served to define the directions black music would take from the release of his first R&B hit (“Please Please Please”) in 1956 to the present day.

And, of course, there is the irreplaceable voice of reason and rage, Oriana Fallaci. A reader sent a link to “Europe’s White Flag of Cowardice” by Jeffrey R. Nyquist. In his essay, Mr. Nyquist examines her final book, The Force of Reason:

Fallaci is unique in recognizing what few others have understood: that pacifism is a corrupting lie, humanitarianism a fraud, and therefore our statesmen “do not even comprehend the concept of the state.” She tells us what few have dared to say before now: that our politicians do not understand politics and our intellectuals have no intellect. According to Fallaci, “There is a lack of honor and dignity and conscience which characterizes a society ill with lack of courage.” The Church, she adds, seems incapable of defending Christianity. “And above all,” she explains, “there is a Europe which does not know where it goes. Which has lost its identity and sold itself to the sultans, the caliphs, the viziers, the mercenaries, of the new Ottoman Empire.”

Here is the problem with a “world without borders.” We forget that the boundary of our collective self was established through centuries of bloodshed. Do we imagine our ancestors were so stupid that they would risk life and limb sacrificing for something that need not exist? The geographical separation of peoples is a necessary precondition for preserving national identity and culture. Without boundaries there can be no people, no culture and no context for peace. And today, as the boundary between Christendom and Islam is erased, we find what Fallaci calls “the most terrible thing of all.” A community based on intolerance and terror begins to integrate with a community based on tolerance and freedom with the result that our journalists, teachers and intellectuals are turning against freedom because they are afraid to oppose the oppression and intolerance of Islam. And therefore they announce that Islam is a “religion of peace.”

Fallaci is not sanguine about Europe’s chances in the coming century, but like Galileo - the sole voice of reason against the church’s established views on cosmology - we must mutter, sotto voce, with him, “but still, it moves.”

Truth cannot be extinguished. Individual bearers of its light can be obliterated, but the Truth in all its absoluteness, is eternal. I am with Plato on that one.

Not that Truth cannot change or transform itself in our own minds. The more we discover, the more humble we become before the altar of That Which Is, in all its appearances - whether Newtonian or Einsteinian or Mother Theresean.

That is why Islam in its worst forms cannot win. It can and will cause great death and suffering - its very brittleness and exquisite sense of grievance make certain the preceding maelstrom before its eventual demise in the face of Truth’s freedom. Islam demands security of belief; Truth will never accede to that.

We humans are a bloody lot; we will not go peaceably in the face of the inexorable. Meanwhile, as we strive for supremacy, Truth leads us patiently on.

Of those who died in 2006 whom will you grieve the most?


Douglas V. Gibbs said...

Saddam's will definitely be the one I grieve the least! Ford will be missed. A class-act. Hope they decide to name the new carrier after him.

Panday said...

Oriana Fallaci.

I wish she were only 40 years old, in the prime of health, and running for Prime Minister of Italy.

Dymphna said...

I promised Larwyn to put in her request: Jeanne Kirkpatrick. As she said, John Bolton is a comforting replacement.

As for amiable dunces, how come only the 'pubs have them. The dunces to the left of us are not amiable at all. Can't you see it? "John Kerry, Mr. Congeniality." Or, "Howard Dean, the Friendly Screamer."

BTW, Hilary has hired an evangelical Christian so someone can explain to her what to say to these strange creatures. Good luck, Hill. Bring Bill with ya.

Always On Watch said...

For me, no question--Oriana.

Captain USpace said...

I totally agree, Oriana. I gave 'The Rage & The Pride' to several people this Christmas.