November 24, 2009

i am become advertisement…

My impulse is to write off committee-crafted "public statements" as being written mostly for their writers, but it is clear that the Manhattan Declaration could have been something a little different, at least for what it does not say.

The positive mentions of "liberty" are almost entirely in the context of "religious liberty", which here is held to be the liberty of conscience and religious affiliation. There is no mention of "democracy" in it, other than a note in the preamble about Christianity's role in forming some of the basis for modern democratic forms. (The preamble is what it is. It is ecumenical boilerplate combined with some knowing rejections of the secular black legend.) The only mention of "freedom" outside of the context of "religious freedom" is a note about a "culture of freedom", which perhaps is part of the problem (at least as we understand those words, today), but others have covered that ground well enough.

I was exposed to cable news for the first time in a while this evening, and I saw Bill O'Reilly spinning the Manhattan Declaration. Maybe this is unnecessarily reactive of me, but I feel that if Bill O'Reilly is comfortable with this thing, they probably weren't trying hard enough. I kid myself, though, the writers of this thing were trying exactly hard enough, because they want these media mouthpieces to feel comfortable spouting it off. You can see the clip here (I do have to say that the combox makes me want to sign the thing, myself–now that's unnecessarily reactive, did you feel the strings as well, dear Judy?).

Whatever hopes I might have that there is an implicit understanding in the document that we will lose this game called democracy (for it long ceased being a mode of governance) are probably unfounded. The taste of that is to heighten the drama, and while I could agree with it enough to sign it if its crafters really meant it, I have no reason to believe they do. These things come up, the committees use them to push themselves into the public eye, gather more donations, and then they are reminisced about later as a great coup; they are rarely admitted to be just another ad, for another product, another service. "Calms your conscience with a special blend of bureaucracy and truth."

Republican and Democrat are largely demographics created by advertisement. I was driving today, caught some Rush Limbaugh passing through the dial, to hear a caller deride Obama as unserious about government and only interested in fantasy. This is probably true. And when liberals said it of Bush, it was probably true then as well, but when political passion is coerced in the same fashions that result in you putting a decal of Calvin urinating on a Ford logo in the back of your truck, well… Fantasy is all we have.

There is, yes, some insinuations about civil disobedience. Will the signees visit those in prison who throw their bodies in the cogs? Oh yes, some will. Bishops JONAH and BASIL are two of our best, and I refuse to believe that they would have signed this petition with anything but the most sincere of motives. But, for many signees, this is positioning. If it shocks a bit, all the better, but not so much that we can't get it talked about on Hannity.

For our new, democratic man, political passion is little different than that which results in my rooting for one NFL team, while my friend roots for another (to our mutual amusement). This is well and good (more healthy than expecting those who have no deep interest to be citizen-experts), and it would be better if the level of participation such men had in politics was equivalent to the level of involvement I have in defensive play-calling on Sunday afternoons (we all have opinions…). But as long as politics is essentially advertisement, good men will always be fruitlessly putting their names to the ephemera of the professionals; they will cry out for sanity, and that cry will just be more grist for the mill.

May it pass, soon.

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