Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Shadow Play in Washington

By Mitchell

Back in the early 60s, there was an episode of the original Twilight Zone called "Shadow Play." It is about a man on death row (Dennis Weaver) with a strange story to tell: the entire proceedings, including his trial and execution, are a part of a nightmare he has every night. The shock of his execution wakes him up and ends the dream, only to begin again the next night. And the District Attorney, the newspaperman, all the main characters in the drama - they're merely creations of Weaver's imagination, existing only in his world of dreams. To prove it, he tells the DA that his wife is making a roast for dinner, which is preposterous - the DA saw his wife put a steak in the oven. And yet, when he comes home, he sees her removing a roast. How could Weaver know this if it wasn't a part of his dream? As the story ends, the DA and the newspaperman are unable to prevent the execution in time, and Weaver dies - but of course it begins again, with the only difference being that the man who was playing the DA is now a newspaperman, the prosecuting attorney is a judge, the jury foreman is the defense attorney, etc. - same cast, same characters, just playing different roles. For Weaver and the those trapped in his dream are nocturnal Flying Dutchmen, consigned to play the same roles over and over and over again - the faces may change, but the lines stay the same.

This helps explain why I haven't written much about either Hurricane Katrina or the Roberts confirmation hearings, and why I probably won't say much about the Pledge of Allegiance decision. At first I said it was because so much had already been said by so many others, but lately it's become something else: to a great extent I've lost interest in both stories. It's not that there isn't drama involved - the loss of human lives, the potential of the Court to shape human lives - it's just that they've become so become predictable, they're boring.

In Weaver's dream the story repeats over and over, with only the faces of the players changing. Likewise, while the headlines in the news change from time to time, we keep hearing the same people saying the same things, over and over.

Is anyone really surprised by anything that members of either party have said about Judge Roberts? They spend more time telling us what they think than asking Roberts to tell us what he thinks. And while there may be one senator somewhere who winds up surprising us, for the most part the roles were preordained ahead of time, the lines written far in advance. Abortion, civil rights, minorities - we all knew what it was going to be like, and we haven't been let down. The special interest groups have all chimed in, as we knew they would, and there are no surprises there either.

It was perhaps dismaying to find Katrina turning political so quickly, but not surprising. To the liberals there could only be one answer - Bush was to blame. It didn't matter what it was, it was the fault of the federal government in general, and Bush in particular. And now we find that race has become a preeminent issue, with a large majority of blacks finding racism inherent in what they see as the slow response of authorities. Politicians for the most part have kept their end of the bargain, pointing fingers every whichway except at themselves. Bush certainly didn't handle this as well as he could have, but at least he took some of the blame, which isn't something you can say for most of those involved.

As I said, none of this is surprising. After all, our culture has embraced those who exist by living off of the divisions they've helped to create. Where would Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton be without racial discord? If they couldn't find something there to complain about, they'd be out of a job. And the politicans are no different. It's a wonder they have to employ speechwriters, since about 95% of what they say has been preordained by the special interest groups whose water they carry. There's really very little imagination employed in this at all.

(Perhaps it's that whiff of Protestant predestination that tends to drive Catholics away from politics. When I was still a Congregationalist I lived and breathed politics; it was only after I converted that I started to see through the whole thing.)

And that's the shame of the whole thing. There will be hearings on Katrina, but as with the Roberts hearings, they'll all be for show. Everyone from politicians to pundits, from lobbyists to gadflies, has their own role to play in the show. It's a role which they've played in the past, and most of what they have to say is just recycled bilge from the last performance. We won't learn much from what happens - it will serve to inflame passions rather than illuminate intellect. (To prove my point, there's this story from NRO on how CNN apparently urged a guest to "be angry" during an appearance. I think we've all suspected this, but it's refreshing nonetheless for someone to come out and suggest it. When I was hosting my cable-access show, I was always after the guests to be more "animated," but there's a difference between animation and antagonism.)

And instead of learning from it, we'll just get angrier and angrier, the natural divides will widen, the man-made fractures will crack and crumble and all we'll hear are the talking heads shouting and hurling epitaphs at each other. How utterly boring.

And we'll be left like Dennis Weaver's character in "Shadow Play," enduring a living nightmare, wondering when and if we'll ever awaken.

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