Remember when Democrats used to argue all day who was the authentic liberal? Now Republicans are arguing equally emphatically who is the authentic conservative.
Finally an issue arises that invites us all to argue who is the authentic pragmatist.
Sen. Barack Obama tells a group of high school students he used to goof off, drink alcohol and use cocaine when he was their age. I'm sure those who approve of that candor consider themselves the authentic pragmatists. Listen to them. "Get real. Obama knows we're all human and kids are kids and they're going to goof off and smoke and drink and do cocaine and get naked and crawl all over each other, so why not be honest for a change and admit he's human, too?"
I think I'm the authentic pragmatist and I disagree. The pragmatist, a wise man tells us, is somebody who believes the "Do Not Disturb" signs ought to be printed in the language of the hotel maids. In other words, we want good results, successful outcomes.
At first Obama's confession of being human didn't bother me. After all, I figured, President Harry Truman was a high school dropout. And I don't recall a single American youth seizing upon that fact and deciding to drop out of high school and hang out and take it easy and shuffle around while waiting for a major party nomination. But then I remembered that Harry Truman never faced a group of high school students and, without being asked, launch into a presentation of his slothful ways when he was their age. They didn't ask. He didn't tell. It was only many years later I read somewhere that Truman had been a high school dropout.
Britain doesn't have the Empire anymore. Spain doesn't have the Armada. And America doesn't have the "role model" like we used to. Sports stars beginning in the late 1960s got sick of being caught drunk, belligerent and consorting with women other than the ones they were married to; all emblazoned and exposed in headlines across juicy tabloids. I seem to recall the athletic community sort of spontaneously organized and unionized and shouted with one voice, "We're ball players. Who the hell says we have to be role models?" And the with-it media of the day ratified their complaint which sank in and took immediate effect more smoothly than any Supreme Court ruling.
You can sneer at that old American charade of the "human" ball player putting aside his cigarette, his whiskey, his narcotics and his extra-marital date for the evening long enough to exhort the youth of America to lead wholesome and upright lives themselves if they, too, want to be star athletes. After you sneer you can curse. After that, you can get sick to the stomach. But you cannot deny that the power of the role model resulted in better behaved American young people.
Even a non-existent hero like Jack Armstrong inspired enough millions of young American boys to "live right" and while they were at it to blackmail their mothers into buying millions of tons of Wheaties. After all, if the great Jack Armstrong ate the Breakfast of Champions, how dare we eat anything less! And Shirley Temple and Jane Withers cast a spell over the land that led to better young girl behavior than Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan.
I regret such observations cause such pain among the "We're all human!" crowd. I don't know any other way to say it.
A certain segment of Obama's high school audience will work to be all that they can be, Obama or no Obama. And a certain segment will goof off and do drugs and all the other unsalubrious activities, Obama or no Obama. It's the huge slice in the middle I fear is poorly served by a candidate for president unloading his past like Obama did.
There are two art forms acknowledged to be authentically American; jazz and the pep talk. An Obama-like performance is the exact opposite of a pep talk. Sure, the message he intends to send is, "Lay off all that bad stuff as I eventually did."
The message actually received is, "Hey. I can keep on doing what feels good for at least a while longer. Obama did and he's off and running for president!"
Should Obama lie if asked directly about his youthful behavior? Of course not. But neither should he volunteer it as musilage to bond him with the young. "Yes, I did those things," he should say if challenged. "And I can't tell you how much I regret it."
Hold out your tray for one more helping of pragmatism.
If we don't preach higher than we practice, our practices will sink lower still.
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