Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Biennial Cri de Coeur

Hurricane Katrina and our government's failure over it gave me a new, crystal answer to people who ask me why I became a teacher--specifically why I became a teacher in a Baltimore City public school. I tell them that I do not want any of my kids to drown in an attic. I don't want any of my kids' grandparents to drown in an attic. I don't want any of my kids to grow up to be suckered by people whose sense of worth depends upon them being suckers for their entire lives.
I thought at first that this space would be a place to write things about teaching: anecdotes, thoughts, all that. I wished to avoid political statements and opinions, because there is too much of that already, and because I have this problem with my own words. I see them written, and I am ashamed by their dullness. But so much of teaching is political, that every time I sat down to write about the antics of nine year-olds, the words began to shade farther and farther into the consequences of our idiotic education policies.
Then came Theodore, and this space became a place to write things about him and put up photographs for friends and family. But weeks go by without my having put things here, because every day I become more acutely aware that the future of this smiling little boy is bound up with the things our government does today. Blunty, I don't want him to drown in an attic. I don't want him to grow up a sucker. I don't want him to be drafted into a war created not by Islamic terrorists but by incompetent Americans three years before he was born. I don't want him killed or maimed in a calamity built on the muddy ground of a stupid idealist's vanity.
So I write this--because if we cannot learn from the mistakes we have made the past few years, what's to keep any of us from drowning in an attic?
The world really is made in words first, and there is no surer way to guarantee that this conflict turn into some sort of worldwide calamity than to keep talking about it as if it already is. Mr. Bush seems to need it to be true, desperately to need it be true. His administration has been one long exercise bent on proving that if you say something enough times it becomes real, and I suppose that in some ways we are living with the proof that he is correct to believe this.
Immediately after September 11, 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke on the subject of terrorism, saying that it was a blight on civilization, and one that we had tolerated for too long. If I remember correctly, his tone--which in matters of state rhetoric is nearly as important as the words--was one of deep reflection, not the sword-rattling self righteousness that very soon replaced it. At that time, listening to Secretary Powell, I understood him, and even told friends whose opinions of me I care about, that if the Administration 'got this right' I might even think about voting for them next time.
There really is no more dangerous a person in the world than an idealist. An idealist is willing to sacrifice real things for imaginary ones, and had better have a firm grasp on the difference between the two if he is going to administer a sane government. It's one thing to write books like Albert Camus, but there were reasons that Albert Camus never ran France.
This is not World War II, or even III or IV, as I have heard some too-clever people argue about. Islamic terrorists are not Nazis or Fascists. Where are our Victory Gardens? Our rubber drives? Gasoline cards? The sort of retarded rhetoric of our president that is meant by turns to inspire, cajole, frighten and insult us, if it is not wedded to the sort of real sacrifice of real things for real things, is the cheapest kind of devaluation of our language. Vice-President Cheney got some press a while back for being quoted by Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill as having said that 'Reagan taught us that deficits don't matter.' What an elegant metaphor for those whose thoughts about fiscal policy apply equally well to their ideas about language and truth.
Remember the Clinton impeachment? Remember the Congressmen and Senators standing on the East Steps speechifying in voices a good octave below their normal tones about "The Rule of Law" and "Truth" and "The Justice System" and the forsaken "American People"? It was clear then that impeaching the president was a chance to justify themselves, whose lives previously had been woefully unimportant. What a shame it was, that such talent had heretofore been wasted on the mere, uninteresting, less-than-noble business of governing. Here, finally was Their Finest Hour--the one they had been born to live, the one that their destiny had led them to.
If last night's presidential address was not a variation on that theme, what was it?
Can we please have a president who is not trying to be Winston Churchill? It is not something that one can be by trying on like an expensive suit. Not one of us has that much money, and the attempt just gets people killed.
And even after all of that--no catharsis. I am still utterly disgusted.
Today is election day. I will vote.


Blogger Slimbolala said...

Amen. And your words are anything but dull.

4:20 PM  
Anonymous lekovacs said...

we should barbecue.

9:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


1:06 AM  
Anonymous pete said...

great post, as always.

11:53 AM  

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