Clearing the Fog
in the
War of Words


  logomachy--1. A dispute about words. 2. A dispute carried on in words only; a battle of words.
logomachon--1. One who argues about words. 2. A word warrior.



Political Philosophooey

Back during the 2000 Republican primary, in a debate in Des Moines, the candidates were asked which political philosopher or thinker they identified with and why. The funny thing is, only one candidate answered the question: George Bush named Jesus Christ "because he changed my heart."

The answer has become a standard ingredient in the Bush Sux stew. The way most people-whether detractors or not--tell the story, Bush said Jesus was his "favorite [or most influential] political philosopher". In fact, that is how the other candidates answered. Here is how one of the detractors describes the other candidates' answers:

Most of the candidates took the question seriously. Steve Forbes thought that Locke and Jefferson provided the philosophical underpinnings of the American Revolution. Alan Keyes thought that all of the authors of the Constitution were equally important, for the document that they wrote. Orrin Hatch praised Abraham Lincoln, for his quest for equality and freedom, and Ronald Reagan, for his stance against the Soviet Union. John McCain responded that Theodore Roosevelt stood for both reform and national greatness.

Jesus' prescription to "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (Mk. 12:17) an excellent start, but He didn't have any more political advice. As a choice of political philosopher, Bush's answer was pretty lame. Forbes was more on the right shelf in naming Locke, and the others mostly named people who had thought about politics and government with significant results.

But the question was not name a favorite or influential political philosopher or thinker. The candidates were asked which one they identified with, and I doubt that Steve Forbes sees himself as a new John Locke, or that John McCain sees himself up on a big white horse like Teddy Roosevelt, though the risks are slim to none that he would ever hear "Teddy Roosevelt was a friend of mine, and you're no Teddy Roosevelt", or that even Orrin Hatch would be so fatuous as to compare himself to Lincoln or Reagan.

I think that beyond the fact that Bush actually answered the question, the joke is on his detractors, because his answer was a good one. We don't want a president who gets his politics out of a book of some intellectual's grand ideas or pet theory. People who do that have a tendency to build big systems of nasty camps, or at least project their vision through a distorting lens of a professor's pet peeves.

Politics is a practical, pragmatic art whose end is good government. Washington, Jefferson, and other founders remarked that maintaining a democracy depended upon the people being disciplined by firm moral principles. George Bush realizes that the fount of democratic politics is in men's hearts. Political leadership in a democracy means leaving people the freedom to let the good in their hearts blossom. Some times it means guiding and persuading them to better ways. And some times, leadership means recognizing when the evil in some men's hearts makes them a danger to the nation.


Kerry an Empty Suit

Kerry an Empty Suit

It's a common hack on John Kerry that he has a ponderous, wooden delivery on the stump. Certainly he sounds as though his mother was frightened by Franklin Roosevelt intoning a date which will live in infamy or a rendezvous with destiny.

I suppose he makes a lot of people want to yell "Yeeeargh!" (Democrats anyway. Republicans more likely want to cry "Yahoo! Bring it on!".), but not me.

I've known John Kerry was an empty suit since June of 1972.

One Saturday morning that June, Jim K---, the Washington, D.C., area coordinator for the Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace, and I went down to the DNC HQ about 8:30 or 9:00. Jim was going to tape a discussion with JFKy--representing the Vietnam Veterans Against the War--on amnesty for draft evaders that the DNC would distribute to college radio stations. In the course of the discussion, Kerry (in his de rigueur field jacket as a "Vietnam Vet") avoided addressing Jim's point with "Well, Jim, you just have to consider the higher modalities of the situation".

I've treasured that phrase--"higher modalities"--ever since. As in "Me shillelagh will take the discussion to the higher modalities of disputation". Over the years, I've used it once or twice to evade those annoyingly penetrating questions that kids ask. It's too late, now; they just look at me and say "Like, what does that mean?"

Incidentally, that was the weekend before the "Watergate break-in". Jim and I walked into an empty, unlocked DNC office and then adjourned for coffee to the Howard Johnson--yes, that one--across the street to give Kerry and the DNC rep time to appear. If the Plumbers had come to me, Gerald Ford would never have been President.


Body and Soul

Body and Soul

The Arts and Entertainment section of Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer was filled with regret and anxiety about two things: the imminent closing of the five-year run of a show about four promiscuous women (Sadly, curiously, its fans await the finale for those women of 'Sex') and the imminent opening of a film about the Passion of Jesus (Gibson's Gethsemane and When sacred goes cinematic, passions flare ).

O tempora! O mores!

I could make a cheap joke about Sex's lack of passion and Passion's lack of sex, but you'd spot that I was just vamping to kill time. I haven't seen Mel Gibson's movie (but I have read the book). I saw just an early season or two of SATC (I read that book, too. As for watching the show, well, I was marooned in a rented room with a TV--what can I say?). The ending, as we finally know, is that all four women end up with men in snug long-term relationships: married; in LTR, with baby and man; in maybe-serious R, maybe LT; and betrothed.

This confirms my impression from the first season. Under the bright glitzy glissando quartet of the show, the continuo was a shriek of pain from the women being shredded by the sexual revolution. In the end, the show seems to have stayed true to the schizoid fantasy that powered the grinder.

The biggest fantasy element in the show wasn't the expensive shoes, fancy restaurants, or even the snappy dialogue. The women were driven by the idea--the quaint, your-Grandmother's-Barbie-doll-wedding dream--that There Is Someone Out There For You, a "soul mate". That's what they wanted--if not right away. But they all thought that you can search for that life-long faithful one while being faithless. That while searching for one's soul-mate you can be promiscuous. That what your body is doing has nothing to do with your soul.

So they jumped into bed with one likely guy after another, without doing anything to evaluate his long-term prospects. And time after time the brutes' faithlessness brought shrieks of soul-riven outrage. It used to be that when a man was said to have "outraged" a woman, he had physically assaulted her and violated her modesty. Things really aren't that different now, except now it isn't legally physical assault, it's consensual sex, at least for the physical part.

The problem is that the soul part isn't really separate from the body. Sorry, folks. We have one nature that includes both body and spirit, a fact reflected both by the women's dream and by their pain when they keep trying temporarily to tear the dream out of one half of their nature.

I don't have much hope for the LTRs. The women are expecting the virtue of faithfulness in themselves and in their men, but virtues and vices are habits of doing what is right or what is wrong. Since there is just one you, body and spirit, you are what you do and you do what you are. When your body has sex, so does your soul. The clock on being faithful to your soul mate doesn't start when you move in together. It starts when you are born. Though you can't turn back the clock, you can over time develop new habits, but the later you wait to develop a new habit, the harder it is to do so. It will take a lot of work for the women to develop the virtue of faithfulness. As for their men--well, good luck.

Which brings us to Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ. The chattering classes seem a bit stunned that Gibson is committing such a massive act of theism in public. But never mind them. SATC's motifs, human nature, body and soul, faithfulness, are central to Christ's Passion.

The Big Problem that people have with people is that we are body and soul. It's messy. One of the oldest and most durable heresies is that of dualism, which explains the conjunction of our nasty, suffering bodies with our sublime spirits as a demonic plot. The Devil or a demi-urge stole our souls from heaven and imprisoned them in our bodies. Jesus' Incarnation as God-made-Man settled the issue for some. God could not have taken on something made by the Devil, but others tried to fit Jesus into the dualists' story. For them, the Incarnation created an even greater scandal, and in the early centuries of Christianity innumerable people wandered off into heresy trying to avoid it.

Faithfulness is at the heart of Jesus' Passion. It is the climax of a two-millennium story of God's covenant--a relationship of faithfulness--with the Jews. Jesus takes on human nature to show us how to live with body and soul in the world. He taught for three years that he was about His Father's business. The consequence, as my brother says, of putting a perfect man who does what God the Father does into a sinful world is that the world kills Him. Jesus showed us what He is by what he did. He suffered as much as a human can bear--torture, death, abandonment, despair, and the agony of knowing that your humiliation is taking place just a few feet in front of your loved ones--pleasing His Father with His steadfast love.

The women of SATC have bought into a tepid, modern form of the dualists' ideas of independent body and soul. Gibson's Passion is part of the story of Jesus' showing us how to live with integrity, that is, faithful to our nature and to God (as opposed to sinning and suffering). The chattering classes mourn the passing of SATC and look askance at the advent of Passion. Someone formed by Jesus' teaching sees the life modeled by the women of SATC as one of disintegration, and though they won't admit it, so did the writers of Sex and the City.



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