Entry from August 18, 2008

Poor old John Edwards. Now the victim of scandal and looking more than ever like the charlatan he always was to us non-believers, he has had the additional bad luck to see his political career crash and burn at the very moment where his campaign theme about the “two nations” seems to have been vindicated. Of course he was wrong about what the two nations were. Rich and poor are ever more fluid categories, which is one of the lessons of this and other economic downturns. Many of those who were rich are now, at least, much less rich, while many of those who were poor continue as they always do in the land of opportunity to move up the economic ladder and into the middle classes. But those other two nations, so well represented by the two parties’ candidates for president this year, really do seem like the East and the West of which Kipling so memorably said “never the twain shall meet/Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat.”

We could call this East and West the party of the Scarecrow and the party of the Lion: the one values brains and their related qualities above all; the other values courage and its related virtues. “Leadership,” for example, a term often in the mouth of Senator McCain, is a form of courage. By contrast, “judgment,” so highly prized by Senator Obama that he has made it the cornerstone of his appeal to the electorate, is a species of brains. He (so he plausibly represents himself) was “right” about the dangers of invading Iraq: therefore he has the brains necessary to avoid dangers. If you’ve got that, what do you need leadership for? Who needs to brave dangers when they can be simply avoided — as they can if you’re as brainy as he? Amazingly to me, millions of Americans actually seem to buy this argument. It just goes to show that we are really two nations.

Sally Quinn in today’s Washington Post wants to call them the nations of “clarity” and “nuance.” Oh how she wishes she lived in John McCain’s simplistic, black-and-white world of moral clarity! But she’s too smart for that, you see. She may even be as smart as Barack Obama — smart enough, at least, to know that Senator McCain’s world is an illusion and Senator Obama’s world, the nuanced world, is the way things actually are.

That kind of nuance is hard to understand sometimes [she writes] — it’s unclear, complicated. Obama’s world can be scarier. It’s multicultural. It’s realistic (yes, there is evil on the streets of this country as well as in other places, and a lot of evil has been perpetrated in the name of good). It’s honest. When does life begin? Only the antiabortionists are clear on that. For the majority of Americans (who are pro- choice), it is “above my pay grade,” in Obama’s words, where there is no hard and fast line to draw on what’s worth dying for, and where people of all faiths have to be respected. I would rather live in McCain’s world than Obama’s. But I believe that we live in Obama’s world.

Or, to put it another way, vote for the smart party. Vote to be as smart as Sally is. Oh, and by the way, also vote for “no hard and fast line to draw on what’s worth dying for.” You never know when that will come in handy. There’s really no argument when you think about it. Who wouldn’t vote to avoid the bad things in the world rather than fighting against them — if you could be as sure as Senator Obama that they can be avoided. Or to remain agnostic about the hard moral choices — if you could believe, as Senator Obama apparently does, that to remain agnostic isn’t also to choose. No wonder the Scarecrow party gets so impatient with the Lion party! It’s all so easy when you’re as smart as they are. And as sure as yourself. And as, er, humble.

Humble? Yes, it seems that Senator Obama also believes that “the one thing that I think is very important is for us to have some humility” — particularly when it comes to “confronting” evil, which is what he believes needs to be done with evil. A humble confrontation? With the brainiacs of the Scarecrow party, I guess, anything is possible. Certainly it is an article of faith with them, as their standard-bearer puts it, that “a lot of evil has been perpetrated based on the claim that we were trying to confront evil.” Oddly, however, this evil — the evil that is perpetrated by claiming to try to confront evil, which is the reason we have to be humble in our confrontations with it — is apparently not itself an evil that needs to be confronted. Or even identified. Let’s just tiptoe past that sucker. Anyway, it’s sure to turn out to be another of those evils that we can avoid simply by being smart and relying on nuance. Sally Quinn is right: we do live in Obama’s world, at least until evil decides to confront us again. For when it does, something tells me, it won’t be humble.

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