America’s Wonderful Tolerance: The 2004 Elections

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The [American] public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives everything except genius “Oscar Wilde

We are a tolerant nation. Last November we forgot a mounting deficit, an absurd war (no WMD’s or connection to Al Qaeda), rising military expenses, and a weak economy. We forgot the embarrassment of Abu Ghraib. We don’t need to know if sadism came with a strategy, approved by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, for the interrogation of prisoners. Prior to November’s elections, 1,100 American soldiers had been killed and 8,500 wounded in Iraq. We don’t need to know if there American citizens — with Constitutional rights — in Guantanamo. We don’t need to ascertain the efficacy of the Patriot Act. We forgot the abrogation of our rights to privacy. Our absolution returned George W. Bush to the White House.

Our country has no tolerance for a critical stance, deep thought, statistics, policy alternatives or legislative priorities. Genius is elitist and alienating. Inquiry, critical questioning, and expert testimonies are in the realm of genius. Give us a story, a patriotic and righteous story. We are the sons and daughters of William Bradford, Jonathan Edwards, Cotton Mather and his witch trials. We cling to our defining myths: the Mayflower, the frontier, scientific and technical prowess, unprecedented prosperity, world leadership, and pluralism.

We love a good story-teller: one that appeals to our virtue and the notion of prosperity through hard work. We do require virility and vitality in our political pastors. We are an egalitarian country. There is something elitist and contradictory in brains and public service. Oxford-Yale educated William Clinton added populist charisma to his political persona. Charm is a prerequisite in any successful bid for the White House.

We are an optimistic nation with no tolerance for gloomy forecasts and complexity in our national design. Are they not, after all, the stuff of genius? Divine Providence and our commitment to moral goodness will get us through “the perilous fight.” We are the moral beacon of the world, the city on a hill,

Bible in hand, work ethic on the other, robed in principle, we forgive and forget. We forgive that in our war against terrorism, Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi are still at large. We forget Afghanistan’s opium trade that “from a military perspective,” according to a British official, “we need to . . . realise that counter-narcotics is central. If we don’t do something, it will turn into another Colombia.” We forget our 1570 boys and girls sacrificed in a conflict with no clear exit strategy. We forget the deaths of innocent Iraqi women and children. We ignore our alienation from Europe and the oil-producing Arab world. We forgive our mounting national debt of $7 trillion. We forget our trade deficit of $61 billion. The most spendthrift administration in history now proposes a budget deficit of $427 billion. We forgive the administration’s unsuccessful $14 billion cut to the Medicaid budget. We forget the 12% interest rate ($15 billion a year) in interest payments. We forgive the unchecked escalation of oligopolies. The 9/11 Report, the warnings of Alan Greenspan and Paul Volcker are in the domain of genius. Give us entertaining news: mass killers, Popes, celebrity trials.

We are a moral nation. We forgive the unethical behavior of Republican members of Congress. We just hold public servants responsible for their sexual behavior, not their policies.

As long as we have a Pollyanna in the White House, we can forget our atrocious environmental record, our increased dependence on foreign oil, and our lack of refining capacity.

We are a nation committed to life and justice. For Terry Schiavo and the cameras, we convened a special session of Congress (a Republican Congress) to supersede the judicial system. We pack our benches with Republican-friendly jurists. The judiciary remains independent as long as it does not run into conflict with our Judeo-Christian values. We forget our hallowed separation of powers. We forget the separation of Church and State when we use fundamentalist churches to pursue a political agenda.

How can we be so forgiving? We are a simple people. We just require stories, simple stories, stories we can recall. We require sermons, revivalist rallies to confirm our values and identity. We are wonderfully tolerant; we forgive everything except genius.

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