Tuesday, November 13, 2012

There is no political solution for America's ills

Some sobering, but painfully true, observations from Greg Griffith. . .
For many years I made my living in film, video and other media production. As my studies progressed in college, I found myself more and more dreading the tasks of actually setting up cameras and lights, running power, wrangling a crew, threading a camera, and shooting take after take. Instead, I found myself looking forward to sitting down in the editing suite, stacks of logged footage beside me, and putting it all together with music, graphics, and narration to tell a story. I didn’t stop to think why that was, but by the time I had graduated and was making a living in the industry, I was focused almost entirely on this phase, called “post-production.”

A few years after graduation, with some time and perspective to think about it all, it became clear. My non-production studies in college had centered around film theory, and I had taken an especially keen interest in the early Russian pioneers Sergei Eisenstein, Vsevelod Pudovkin, and a more obscure one named Lev Kuleshev. At the time, I didn’t know why; this was the last area of film I would have predicted I would take an interest in.

Later, it became crystal clear why I had gravitated toward this obscure corner of film theory, and toward the editing phase of production: I was fascinated by the power of montage, and especially juxtaposition. They were the raw elements I preferred to work with, and with which I was most effective - the finished images on film, not what I saw as the monotonous drudgery of production.

So as I’ve watched the American political landscape change over my adult life, I’ve often thrown my hands in the air at what I’ve seen as lost opportunities by Republicans to use visual media - everything from print to commercial television to the web and social media - to emphasize the failings of liberal politicians and their policies.

Never has this frustration been more intense than the past few weeks, in particular the horrific failing of the Obama administration in the Benghazi consulate attack. I thought that a particularly effective TV ad or Facebook image would be a juxtaposition of our dead ambassador and Navy SEALS, beside Barack Obama partying the following night in Las Vegas with Beyonce and Jay-Z and their tower of champagne bottles.

How, I thought, could any reasonable person, with any moral grounding, look at that image and consider that situation for over two seconds without being repulsed? How could anyone who had drunk in even a sip of the disgusting actions of our president even entertain the notion of re-electing him?

My answer didn’t come immediately, but it came soon enough. The answer is this:

- There are millions of voters who can’t tell you that Benghazi is in Libya, can’t tell you that our ambassador was murdered there, can’t even point to Libya on a map.

- There are millions of voters who, while perhaps being able to tell you that our ambassador was killed in some sort of attack, are wholly ignorant of the administration’s fecklessness and perhaps traitorous culpability in all of it.

- But the most important answer is this: There are millions of voters who can be sat down, and have it explained to them exactly what happened, and fully comprehend the disgusting failures of leadership and morality of the Obama administration… they can look at the photos of the men who died fighting in Benghazi and have at least some understanding of their honor and courage and sacrifice, and look at the photos of Barack Obama partying with Beyonce and Jay-Z beside a champagne tower… and they prefer the champagne tower. They prefer the depravity of Barack and Beyonce and Jay-Z to the honor and courage and sacrifice of the men who died in Benghazi.

And combined, those millions of voters outnumber the ones who cannot conceive of preferring depravity over honor.

We could run the same exercise using other questions of morality - photos of partial-birth abortions, for example, or the indignity of the poverty and insecurity that results from socialism - and we would get the same results.

The sad fact is that there now appear to be more voters in America who prefer the soullessness of socialism to the ethic of self-sufficiency, and the depravity of celebrity to the example of honor.

In other words, we are no longer a nation of people united by their common sense of right and wrong, of why government exists and what it is for, yet bickering over the minutiae of how to implement it all. We are in fact a nation of people divided by our wildly different senses of what is moral, and what it means to be an American.

So show them all the ugly pictures you like. They don’t care. They’re not repulsed, because they don’t share our values, our morals, our ethics, or our appreciation of this country.
. . . and Elizabeth Scalia.
Is it a tragic thing that what we had is gone and won’t be coming back? Well, yes, because while it lasted it was the most remarkable engine for human freedom, ingenuity, and opportunity the modern world had ever known. But along with all of the goods we manufactured and skyscrapers we erected, we cultivated immense pride—a pride that overfocused us on the material rather than the spiritual aspects of prosperity (to do for others) and freedom (to live for others) and military might (to defend ourselves and others). When we overtipped the scales and became weighed down with McMansions we neither needed (with our 2.5 children) nor could really afford, when we began to manipulate the stock market, when we began to make war with drones and shrug off human life as “collateral damage” we justified it by saying we were the greatest nation the world had ever seen; exceptional and indispensible.

Like Moses, we let pride overcome our mission. The conservatives—obsessing on greatness—refused to acknowledge any weakness. But there is always weakness; not admitting mistakes is the greatest of them. By refusing to cede error or suggest moderation, the right allowed the left to grab on to moral arguments so few were making—about greed, and selfishness, and triumphalism—and to pervert them through the filter of secular statism, until limited taxation, individual accomplishment, and strategic military defense became caricatured as great moral evils, and most other matters became relative. In a great irony, the secularists who warned of encroaching theocracy just a few years ago claimed that the government’s way was the godly way and golly, the people were all right with that, because theological nuance just complicates things, anyway.

And that is how the GOP lost and the Democrats won; through pride and error. Our job at this point is not to save the nation. The nation is tumbling precisely the way the philosophers said it would when it became over-reliant on government. Our job, now is to save each other; to help spiritually strengthen each other for all that is yet to come.
Truth be told, there is no political solution to America's ills. The difference between the two candidates was never as stark as some would have had us believe. Political standard bearers are generally a reflection of the respective depravities of their constituencies. Barack Obama, perhaps moreso than anyone before him, embodies the selfish, greedy, grievance-mongering culture of the left. Mitt Romney, right down to the fact that he belongs to a religious cult that is largely the product of a syncretism between shallow cultural Christianity and American exceptionalism, definitively embodies the similar shortcomings of the right.

The sobering reality we must all face is that we are inevitably prone to embrace, and even exalt, the candidate who best exemplifies our fallenness in the manner most palatable to our prejudices. We are all fallen, depraved human beings whose vision is clouded by sin. Consequently, we would all be bound for hell were it not for the saving grace of God, who beckons us to repent of our idolatry and look to him as our only true Source of hope.