It’s that time of year again…

It’s that time of year again for silliness to overwhelm seasonal gaiety and for wonder to be confounded by depravity and greed. The rush by shoppers to scoop up the latest games and the announcement of plans by our inertial president to get started on his library are just the latest indications of a flight from the stern realities of war and a tenuous economy. Some things are predictable, however.
For one thing Bill O’Reilly is off on his annual Christmas rant about why nativity scenes on public lands and in schools are acceptable. And he is insisting once again that store employees wish patrons a “Merry Christmas” not a “Happy Holiday”. It seems not to concern him that some folks get into the spirit of things without being members of “the faith” or at least not the Christian faith, or that Chanukah is celebrated in December as well. Expecting store personnel to decide when and to whom a farewell “Merry Christmas” is appropriate seems an unnecessary burden for retail staffers to bear.
On “The Factor” recently O’Reilly stated incorrectly that our nation’s founders based our system of governance and laws on Judeo-Christian principles. Most historians suggest, rather, that those original framers did not identify themselves or their credos thusly but were, more generally speaking, deists. And he referred to Jesus Christ as a philosopher, something that hasn’t been heard since George Bush, the candidate, said Jesus was his favorite philosopher – – although many philosophers hold religious views, most religious leaders are not generally described as philosophers.
Apparently, O’Reilly’s point was that our very foundations are so fixed in religious terms the display of religious symbols on public lands and in public schools is almost a birthright and that Christ the philosopher is basic to our national character. We are continually besieged these days by this kind of pseudo-intellectual prattle – – opinions based on ideology rather than some logical framework and facts, all intertwined with religion and what some call “values” issues. The word goes out and is soon spun across the airwaves in a constant din until it takes on the trappings of truth.
It is really a sign of weakness rather than strength though that dubious positions are gleefully expounded by Republican politicians and pundits parroting talking points developed by Karl Rove or some other White House type – – intellectually-challenged politicos who haven’t had an original thought in years, maybe in a lifetime. Thus, for example, it has become common parlance from the president on down to the Congress, to the right-wing, echo-chamber press corps that the “Democratic Party” is now called the “Democrat Party”. I mean you can’t get more simple-minded than that.
But possibly the most stunning revelation in recent days is not that the president is headed to Jordan to confer with Prime Minister Maliki. Neither is it the various leaks from deliberations co-chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton about possible solutions in the Middle East. It is rather that, even as conditions in Baghdad deteriorate, the White House announces the president’s intention to begin fund-raising for his library – – some $500,000,000 to create materials commemorating his presidency. There is some chatter about the enormity of such a sum, but when one considers the uphill task of rehabilitating this man’s reputation and recalibrating his failures it may not be enough.
There is something strangely out of sync about a man so unlettered, so un-read and so oddly unsophisticated about the world around him, planning such an intellectual extravaganza – – my goodness, a library and think tanks, with actual writers and political strategists on call to write flattering analyses of ‘the Bush years’. The project is to be financed in large measure by private donations from rich Arab nations and other wealthy supporters all of whom will be able to contribute without public attribution, thus furthering the Bush tradition of secrecy and alliances with rich benefactors both foreign and domestic.
It is something of a phenomenon that President Bush shows no shame or embarrassment about what has happened on his watch. He laughs, he waves, he behaves as if he really had political capital to spend. His low approval rating doesn’t seem to concern him, believing as he does that somehow history will prove him to have been a brilliant leader – – a fantasy that must help to sustain him. It isn’t surprising that his ratings are so low; what is most surprising is that 31% of the country still approves of the job he’s doing.
How disturbing – – the trivia, the getting and spending, the distractions that keep us from dwelling too long on the horrors Iraqi civilians and our troops face. Perhaps a few Merry Christmases will help O’Reilly get through the holiday season without imploding, and the visions of his imposing library that dance in President Bush’s head may keep him from having to face the reality of the dreadful mess he has created.