Tuesday, August 03, 2004
A Gorey Tale
DEATH. It's one of those weeks when nothing is happening in the news but trivialities -- a freshly nominated set of Democratic candidates for president and vice president, a major terror alert in New York, New Jersey, and Washington, DC, and the first large-scale terrorist attacks on Christian churches in Iraq. Facing so little material to work with, the creative blogger must look pretty far afield to find a topic for the faithful readers. That's why our attention turned toward Bill O'Reilly in the wake of his much ballyhooed showdown with Michael Moore. Last night he devoted his 'Talking Points Memo' to defending himself against the charge by a Boston Globe columnist that he sat speechless while Moore demanded to know if he would sacrifice his child to save Fallujah. O'Reilly, of course, is convinced his performance with Moore was a triumph. Here's the transcript of the portion of the interview the Globe reporter was referring to:
MOORE: Are you against that? Stopping this war?
O'REILLY: No, we cannot leave Iraq right now, we have to…
MOORE: So, you would sacrifice your child to secure Fallujah? I want to hear you say that.
O'REILLY: I would sacrifice myself..
MOORE: Your child? It’s Bush sending the children there.
O'REILLY: I would sacrifice myself.
MOORE: You and I don’t go to war, because we’re too old…
O'REILLY: Because if we back down, there will be more deaths and you know it.
MOORE: Say, “I, Bill O’Reilly, would sacrifice my child to secure Fallujah.”
O'REILLY: I’m not going to say what you say, you’re a, that’s ridiculous…
MOORE: You don’t believe that. Why should Bush sacrifice the children of people across America for this?
O'REILLY: Look it’s a worldwide terrorism — I know that escapes you —
MOORE: Wait a minute, terrorism? Iraq?
O'REILLY: Yes. There are terrorist in Iraq.
MOORE: Oh really? So Iraq now is responsible for the terrorism here?
O'REILLY: Iraq aided
terrorists. Don’t you know
anything about any of that?
O'Reilly may be the only person who can't see that ducking the
question and changing the subject do not secure rhetorical
victory. Now, ordinarily, we wouldn't care if an inveterate blowhard
comes up empty once in a while, but Michael Moore has gotten a lot of
mileage out of this "sacrifice your children" ploy, and he and others
will likely keep using it until someone with a particle of intelligence
and judgment stops them in their tracks. It isn't that there's nothing
to say in such situations. O'Reilly, for example, could have countered
with George C. Scott's famous line from Patton: "It's not the job of an
American soldier to die for his country; it's to make the other poor
sonofabitch die for his." Or he could have pointed out that American
soldiers are not children, but adults who have volunteered on their own
to defend their country and, if necessary, to sacrifice their lives in
exchange for a higher purpose -- the defense of American civilians,
including children and babies yet unborn. He could have said, as a
parent, I would be proud if my children chose to serve their nation in
the armed forces, and if they died in doing their duty, I would be
permanently grief-stricken and permanently proud of their lives. He
could have said, this is America, there is no draft, and no parent has
to "decide" to sacrifice a child to the military; it is always their
adult offspring who make such decisions for themselves. He also could have said, "Yes."
But no. Michael Moore's question did paralyze Bill O'Reilly. His
answer was lame, evasive, and non-responsive. Why? Because for all his
tough talk, O'Reilly is hostage to the great American obsession with
the "kids." Scarcely a night goes by that he doesn't, at some point in
his program, demand some government or community action on behalf of
the "kids." He does not see them as young citizens-in-training, but as
something inert and vulnerable, like the family silver, that has to be
protected at all costs. The subject of kids has become so sacred that
it suppresses even his native common sense. And he's not alone.
Sometimes it seems there's no crime we Americans wouldn't sanction as
long as someone puts it in the context of the "kids."
This is all precious nonsense. Yes, we have a responsibility to
protect children, but it's not the only purpose in life. It's just one
of many responsibilities adults and citizens have, including duty,
integrity, loyalty, honor, and bravery in the face of life's
challenges. When we start taking this one particular responsibility more
seriously than all the others, we are also taking ourselves too
seriously, and more importantly, we are putting children on a pedestal
where they don't belong. That's probably why we have stopped
disciplining our children, stopped making demands on them with respect
to their behavior, education, and work ethic. We treat them like little
godheads, bowing and scraping whenever their name is invoked.
Is there an antidote? Don't know. But any reasonable first step must
involve puncturing our inflated notions about the sanctity of
childhood. Only when we've done that might we have a shot at realizing
how thoroughly and disgustingly that sanctity has already been violated
by allowing our little darlings to engage in whatever pursuits appeal
to their narcissistic and stunted personalities.
But we are only InstaPunk. We can't provide antidotes. All we can
offer is the bracing air of dark and ruthless humor. That's why our
lesson for today is this link to Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies. It's
a hilarious alphabet book recounting the horrible deaths of some of the
sweetest looking little kids you ever saw. Read it or don't. Laugh or
draw yourself up in self righteous outrage. But spare us your
complaints. We don't give a damn. Children are also human, which means
they are not exempt from the human comedy. No one is. When we forget
that, we tend to forget a lot of values that we just might need someday
soon to save the lives of our precious kids.
Oh. And one more thing. Grow up, O'Reilly.