HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

December 10, 2007
From the Editor

John Turner


It has been cold since I returned to Vermont. But the funny thing is the cold here doesn't seem as menacing as the cold in Chicago does. It's friendlier even when the temperature dips below what it is in the big city. Maybe that's just a psychological illusion. But, it seems real.

The best comment I saw on Mitt Romney's big religious speech came from Maureen Dowd's column on December 9th, where she quoted Jon Krakauer, author of a popular book about Mormonism: "JFK's speech was to reassure Americans that he wasn't a religious fanatic. Mitt's was to tell evangelical Christians, 'I'm a religious fanatic just like you.' "

On the Romney front, there was quite an explosion on The McLaughlin Group, where panelist Lawrence O'Donnell differed sharply with the rest of the group about the effectiveness of the speech. O'Donnell said it was the worst speech he has heard in his years of covering politics because it sought to evade completely the genuine issue of what Romney means when he says he is faithful to the religion of his fathers. The religion of his fathers, said O'Donnell, was vicious, racist, and fantastic. Is that what Mitt is standing up for now?

As usual, the Sunday morning talk shows did nothing to reassure us about the intelligence of those who tell us about national events. On the Chris Matthews Show, David Ignatius of the Washington Post demonstrated what a squirrelly world major media figures inhabit. It's as though they have their heads inserted perpetually into a noise chamber that screens out all sounds of reality.  Ignatius thought Romney's speech was great, that it's entirely understandable that Bush wouldn't ask questions in advance about the intelligence report on Iran, and that the destruction of the torture tapes by the CIA is no big deal and will be forgot about in a few weeks. This is media wisdom as filtered by the noise chamber.

I see that Garry Wills has published a new book on the history of American religion. Its principal value will probably come from its title, which is Head and Heart: American Christianities. The plural tells us that what's called Christianity is no single thing. Truth is, it may not be even a family of religions.

On Face the Nation, Bob Schieffer said the nation is being damaged because we can't be trusted to practice what we preach. This has been obvious for decades, but when someone like Schieffer faces up to it, the possibility of ignoring it becomes fairly slim.

A relatively minor figure who has been brought to my attention so repeatedly lately I begin to wonder about him is Paul, Gimigliano, official liar for the CIA. I'm curious if that's a satisfying job and what we the people pay him for doing it. I guess we have shown repeatedly that we are willing to pay quite a bit to escape the truth, and that being the case, I don't suppose we should blame Mr. Gimigliano for taking the job.

A story that didn't get as much attention during the week as I thought it deserved featured Abu Zubaydah, one of the stars of the destroyed tapes. Zubaydah was a low-level member of al Qaeda and a mentally deficient man who appears to have been tortured by the CIA simply because Bush wanted him tortured. It is now fairly well fixed in the public mind that the president is an intellectual clown. But what hasn't taken hold as firmly is his viciousness. The public appears to regard him as a vacuous guy who doesn't mean any harm. And that strikes me as a severely flawed perception.

Christmas is coming and now, thanks to Bill O'Reilly, we can all enjoy it without quite so much worry that it will be snatched from our grasp. I wish you all a merry Christmas and even happy holidays -- despite how hideously subversive of American values the latter may be.


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