Monday, March 24, 2008

Silda, You Are Us

If you’ve seen the two brief news conferences where New York Governor Eliot Spitzer first admitted his appalling indiscretions and then when he announced his resignation, the image of the sad, shocked face of his wife, Silda, who stood by her man during the news conference, is indelibly etched in your mind’s eye, as it is mine.

The microcosm of the event is bad enough, a man who overzealously campaigned against the very thing he indulged in, one who was born into privilege and pursued power behind the veil of championing the public good. Perhaps self-loathing led him to become the Elmer Gantry of public prosecutors. His downfall might evoke the Aristotelian definition of tragedy, but it fails on the measure of not evoking pity. He got his just due. The only pity we can feel is for his wife and his children.

But as a metaphor, Silda’s sad visage is emblematic of our own crisis, watching our country’s cultural and economic decline. We stand by, helpless, shocked, bewildered.

American industry and values were once the envy of the world. The “arrogance of power,” as the late Senator Fulbright put it (“the tendency of great nations to equate power with virtue and major responsibilities with a universal mission”), dragged us into Vietnam and now Iraq. We seem to be content following na├»ve or morally corrupt political leaders, damn future generations. Rack up debt, abandon the environment, and watch our educational system become one of the least effective of all developed nations. Our financial institutions are so unstable that Federal Reserve is now financing the excesses of this decade, with unknown consequences in the future.

Our energy policy is suicidal, a stake in the heart of the dollar, as we are content to massively export our dollars abroad to feed an insatiable appetite for fossil fuels. Greater reliance on alternative energy, within our technological reach, remains elusive thanks to the lack of leadership (http://lacunaemusing.blogspot.com/2007/12/politics-as-usual-where-is-leader.html). And we now share oil and basic material resources with rapidly developing emerging economies, and there is no world solidarity about how to deal with the consequences to the environment.

With no incumbents running for the presidency, we might have had a chance to begin to expunge short-term thinking from the political agenda. But the Democratic primaries have dissipated into political demagoguery, with race rising to the surface. Republican and Democratic candidates alike claim to have a “plan” to deal with the economy, education, the environment, Iraq, terrorism, but these “plans” seem like nothing more than sound bites to get elected.

To be effective, our new President needs to be inspirational, someone who knows how to unite disparate voices, reach across congressional isles, and mobilize the best minds to reverse our spiraling decline. One has to wonder where we would be if the popular vote had determined the Presidency in 2000. We now need to be concerned about the consequences if Democratic “superdelegates” ignore the Democratic primary popular vote.