Tuesday, February 20, 2007

MOYERS THREE

The last of the Moyers articles that caught my eye appears in “The Nation”, entitled “A New Story for America”, appearing in the issue of January 22 (http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070122/moyers)

He quotes Ronald Reagan who in his 1980 speech to the Republican National Convention said “The major issue of this campaign is the direct political, personal and moral responsibility of Democratic Party leadership – in the White House and in Congress – for this unprecedented calamity which has befallen us.”

You’ve got to hand it to the Great Communicator. If he picked up anything from his days in Hollywood studios – and he picked up quite a bit – it was the requirement that a script get right to the point and that the character doesn’t wind up burning up viewers’ time (and precious film) rambling.

We can certainly entertain the assertions that he oversimplified and that he damn well meant to. He did both. It was his metier. But he also put into clear, simple language something fundamental that was hidden deep down the American spirit of his age, and something that – though hidden (as much by political correctness as by inattention) – was very very real.

In their sustained, deconstructive, revolutionary frenzy to rip open space for their assorted programmes and agendas, the revolutionaries of the Left had each ripped out major chunks of the American ‘story’. In fact, whether they knew it or not, or whether they thought it was worth thinking about or not, they wound up deconstructing the American ‘Story’ – the deep vision, however inchoately held – that sustained the identity of the American people.

Human beings need a Story. Call it a spiritual need or don’t, insist that some form of organized religion is essential to maintaining such a Story or don’t, but all human beings have an abiding need for a Story if they are to sustain with their lives a common culture and a civilization. Whether that Story gives the people less (the Egyptian) or more (the classic Western) authority, that Story still provides the unseen ground that anchors and gives Shape to and makes sense of all of their efforts and of their very lives. And those ‘lives’ extend both forward and backward in Time – encompassing forebears and descendants, and to greater or lesser extent horizontally – encompassing others of their society or their culture. Almost always, that Story also extends Beyond Time: not simply beyond the appearances and the surfaces of daily life to the deeper fonts of vital energy that well up from the roots of human being and doing, but also Beyond those humans and beyond human-being itself.

In their urgent haste to actualize their particular bit of the envisioned future ‘now’ if not ‘yesterday’, the assorted Revolutions could not only ill-afford the time necessary for wide public deliberation, but they could not afford the ‘judgment’ that any established ‘Beyond’ might pass – in the popular opinion – against their particular agenda. Thus it was that Theory sought to deconstruct any possible rivals or judges; not only was doubt derided as merely ‘backlash’ but doubt was amputated from any Larger authority. A perfectly understandable and hardly novel revolutionary tactic. And one that was reinforced by the stunning hubris of many of the revolutionaries who saw themselves as a vanguard, socially-redeeming elite waging ‘total war’ on benighted sheep-like masses of oppression who ‘just didn’t get it’ and who needed to be force-fed ‘it’ for their own and everybody else’s good. In the long-run of History they were certain, they would be judged as liberators.

And so the vital human and national edifice of Story came directly under sustained deconstructive attack. American society since almost its inception had been criticized – from within as well as without – for failing the ideals of its own Story, and that criticism became even more intense as the original appearances and structures of the Founders’ world changed in the 19th century and into the 20th. But in the mid-20th, precisely on the heels of the Glorious ‘65’s achievement in civil rights, enthusiasts adopted Theory to utterly delegitimize Story itself.

Reagan the trouper sensed this abyssal loss that so profoundly agitated so many people. Untutored in policy and Great Things, he was yet a man professionally and personally familiar with operations conducted on the vital if unseen ground of Story; the man and the hour, so to speak, met – and the man knew it. Here was the handle by which he could grasp the Presidency and the level by which he might move the people. Ensconced in the White House in the latter years of the 20th century (and of Communism, as it turned out), this ‘actor’ – this long-trained dealer in Story – was at home. And got right to work.

Unfortunately, but hardly uncharacteristically for an American, he was only on a nodding acquaintance with the Beyond, except as that Beyond revealed itself in the nation itself, in its history and its citizens and its fantasies. But in best American style he rolled up his sleeves and made do. It was almost enough. Not that he didn’t try.

A Story differs from a ‘story’ in that the Story is connected to some Beyond. This is what gives the Story its staying power, its teflon quality – if you will. It survives the slings and arrows of mere historical, ‘real’ developments because it exists in a realm Beyond them. People know that no matter what happens, the Story represents something more ‘real’ than the very palpable slings and arrows bethumping them. And thus fortified, they endure. And maybe even prevail.

Alas for the Democrats. In adopting the Identities and bringing them in from their assorted cold, dark nights, they wound up inviting the vampire of Theory in as well. And thus the Beyond had to go. And thus the Story had to go.

And that loss was instantly, if only viscerally, felt throughout the population. And Reagan sensed that with his tingly actor’s whiskers. Sure, a lot of lesser-motived folks also realized it: political operatives, corporate honchos, assorted fantasists, and all sorts of folk who made their daily bread by manipulating other folks, for their own or somebody else’s good. But for the our purposes here we’ll focus on Reagan. He was a canary in the mine – a very big and not altogether incapable canary. We didn’t notice the feathers because of all the flags or all the ‘politically correct’ opprobrium, although those occasional brown suits certainly prompted fleeting and uncomfortable thoughts of the animal kingdom.

Whatever went on around him – and some very baaaad stuff went on, either around him or through him – yet in his grasp on the profound human need for Story he was spot on. And the Democrats found that they weren’t; or – more accurately – couldn’t be. No one Story would hold all those teeming and squalling Identities together, and given the revolutionary agendas of their Outcome-oriented advocates, nothing so intangible as Story was desired from the Democratic pols anyway.

The People unStoried is not a pretty sight. Just as a child who grew up without Story is faced with a shrunken ‘world’ and consequently develops a shrunken ‘self’ (trapped in a Horizontal, without a Vertical and without an Interior) so too a People without a Story begin to lose Shape as if a trellis is suddenly removed from a large vine. And after a while, that People’s government begins to assume assorted deformed shapes as well.

This is no plea for a restoration of the Reagan-era nor of the Twelve Years recently ended but still so inescapably battened upon Us. But it is a sober realization that Story has been seriously damaged during the revolutionary renovations of the past three or four decades, and that the mere fact of their returning to majority status doesn’t mean that the Democrats are going to be able to adequately address this crucial lack. Not hardly.

To the right of Us, the far-too-large role of a hypertrophied government power and a mythic ‘Unitary Executive’; to the left of Us, a shrunken revolutionary agenda, still toxic in its tatters. All around us the twin spectres of Terrorism and Crime seeking to stampede us deeper into the market-basket of that government power and its corporate masters. But nowhere to be found is a Story that grounds us as a society and a civilization and as a People, nor as The People specifically raised up for this Republic by this Constitution and esteemed (until recently) as such by so many of the world’s peoples.

And far too many forces are quite used to working with (or around) a People thus enfeebled, thank you. A People that is on its way to becoming a ‘bunch’ or a ‘herd’ or a collection of ‘herds’ on a still-large ranch.

We have Us a world-class problem here. Ben Cartwright is not only gone, but he never actually existed in the first place. We cannot look to “the valley ranchers” to sort things out. Better it be realized that WE are the valley ranchers, and start holding meetings.

Time’s a-wastin’. Winter’s a-comin’. The neocon dudes and Fundy snake-oil sellers have set up their tables in the town hall, fronted by a bunch of cocky man-boys who never did a lick of honest work in their life. And if We don’t want the Army to run this town then We’d best attend to matters right quick. Or else this Story is going to have a very unhappy ending.
It ain’t much, but this is morning in America now. Then again, for persons modest enough to appreciate the Gifts of a Beyond, any day you can get up is a good day. Good enough anyhow.

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