Significance for the Long Run: Developments Last Week

Tomorrow is Devil's Day  -- because the date is written, numerically, 6/06/06. How can we decide if enough attention is being given to it?. Something really bad is supposed to happen, but since something really bad happens every day we don't know how we're going to distinguish tomorrow's evil from all the rest. How can we make up our minds that an instance of badness is really worthy of the Devil? We have to wonder if the Devil's PR operation is in good shape. He doesn't seem to be getting as much credit as he deserves for all the misery going on around the world. Presumably, he causes it all. But if that's the case, then one more example scarcely seems worth much newsprint. It's difficult to know how one should advise the Devil to proceed (that is, if one were on his staff and being adequately paid). It might be a good idea to lay off the little stuff and concentrate on a really superior demonstration, and who knows? Maybe that's what he's going to do. We'll just have to wait for tomorrow. In retrospect, we can't be sure whether something adequate for Devil's Day happened or not. Maybe there's some big secret lurking. It's impossible to know how many years we'll have to wait before we can be sure.

I waked up this morning thinking, "This is the day of the Devil." So I hopped up and came down to read in the New York Times an article telling me that the prescription of antipsychotic drugs to children has increased five hundred percent since 1993. "Aha," I thought, "the religious prognosticators are right again." Now that we know kids are being fed a lot of drugs to modify how they think and feel we have to ask ourselves what it means. And when we ask, we discover we don't know (which, by the way, was one of the themes of the article). Can it be that we're crazier than we used to be? Are we just now discovering medicines that stop us from being crazy? Is drugging kids just a way to make up for ineffective parents? Or is it merely the traditional business of drug companies enriching themselves by convincing us we need stuff we don't need? We don't know the answers to any of these questions either. Perhaps this is the age of We Don't Know? Could the Devil be  behind it? The thought leads us to the biggest We Don't Know (or WDK) of all.

Language about the president appears to be growing ever more blunt. The first sentence of the editorial in my local paper this morning read, "George Bush is a bully and a coward." After taking that in with my first cup of coffee I came to my computer and found a report that John Kerry said the president is a criminal who is looting the country. Gosh! A bully, a coward, and a criminal looter. That could give some people the impression that he ought not to be the chief executive of the nation. It seems to be the case that not only is dissatisfaction with the president more widespread than it used to be but deeper also. The depth is doubtless extended by people beginning to say in public what has been said in private for quite a while. Strong statements reinforce one another. For some time now I've wondered about the possibility of a swelling tide of disgust that might burst the boundaries of ordinary opposition. We can't be sure it's upon us but there are signs. It will be interesting to see what effects the tide will produce if it really does come sloshing across the country, sweeping away journalistic timidity before it. If in the next month or so we find David Broder declaring Bush to be a criminal, we'll know something really is afoot. Truth is, there's no predicting the forms this kind of unleashed passion might take. I'm not sure we've ever had anything like it before in our history. It could be quite spectacular.

Last night, ABC News asked whether Ann Coulter is being uncivil to say that some of the wives of men killed on September 11, 2001 are enjoying their husbands' deaths. This was in a segment asking whether there are lines that ought not to be crossed in political debate. But ABC didn't bother to ask who is to be restrained by these mythical lines. Ann Coulter, after all, is a person who has made a career out of being outrageously crazy. Virtually everything she says is nuts. There are some people who like to hear that sort of thing, and they are providing Ms. Coulter with a good living. This is just an aspect of capitalism and is not amenable to standards of civility. You would think that ABC News would have bothered to make that point. But, instead, they dealt with Ms. Coulter as a political commentator rather than as a entertainer and in doing so they crossed more important lines than Ms. Coulter ever has.

President Bush doesn't seem to be getting very good press from his anti-gay marriage proposal. If there aren't any media supporters for it, you have ask, who is he trying to impress? Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post says that Mr. Bush has gone from being the Decider to the Distracter and it does seem to be the case that the president's concern about issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples has been worked up for the purpose of turning the public's attention away from other things. There may be no limit to how absurd or desperate this administration will get as the president's approval rating shrinks. Will he launch a war to try to turn the polls around? Mr. Robinson says we may be heading into new depths of shamelessness, and I have no confidence that he's wrong.

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