Friday, August 04, 2006

The Stakes

The front page Associated Press picture in the Hartford Courant said a thousands words. It showed a somewhat cautious Ned Lamont being bear-hugged by Tommie Jackson, the pastor of Faith Baptist Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church in Stamford, while the Reverend Al Sharpton stood to his left beaming, no doubt waiting for his papier-mâché hug or, perhaps better, a peck on the cheek and a whispered sweet nothing in his ear.

Why so diffident? Well sir, hugs and pecks mean something in our politics. They are a way of branding a politician. A serious hug means: I’m yours, and you’re mine. In the 21st century, no politician will plight their troth for more than, say, fifteen minutes, just enough time for a quick dip in fame’s baptismal font. They will rent themselves out to all comers, for the price of a vote. Those who have committed themselves, whether to a person or a cause, will be followed about by a huge papier-mâché reminder of their indiscreet dalliances.

It seems that Lowell Weicker, as senator, was on to something when he branded himself “No man but yours” -- which, translated into the modern idiom, means “no man but his own.”

Lieberman, viewed by some as an antique has-been, has commitments hanging all over him, albatrosses dragging him into the mire of modern politics. For instance, he appears to be quaintly committed to the survival of Israel -- now under direct military attack by Hezbollah and facilitating Arab states, both as a nation and an idea -- at time when the whole notion of committment has become somewhat passé.

During the French resistance in World War II, when the streets of Paris were thronged with Nazi soldiers cannoodling with local sympathetic non-partisans, members of the French resistance who thought their country ought to commit itself to those uniquely Western ideas the nation had brought forth in a bloody revolution, called themselves, proudly,” partisans.” Among them was a young Albert Camus writing, anonymously in a magazine he had created called Combat, to a former German friend, now an enemy of everything Camus loved.

Both his German friend and Camus were cynics. France, before it had entered the battle against Nazism in earnest, had paused at the intersection of intelligence and courage; it stopped to drink at the wellsprings of thought, and that pause had cost France dearly, while Germany, cynical to the bone, had committed itself to nothing but force and violence.

And what was it Camus loved? Small things that loomed large in Camus’s appreciation, all of which betoken an absence of soulless cynicism: “… the roses in the cloisters of Florence, the guilded bulbous dome of Krakow, the delicate gardens of Salzburg… I delight in all this. For all those landscapes, those flowers and those plowed fields, the oldest of lands, show you every spring that there are things you cannot choke in blood”

Camus had decided to fight for what he loved, to wade through blood, if necessary, to defend justice and liberty. “The battle we are waging,” he told his former German friend, “is sure of victory because it is as obstinate as spring… henceforth, we have a superiority that will destroy you.”

That is how men talked in the rubble of defeat -- Remember, Paris, the city of lights, was occupied by the Nazis – when there were yet men in Europe who were not cynics.

This year, as Israel is under direct attack from Iran and Syria – and, of course, subsidiary organizations like Hezbollah, who want to choke it in blood – the entire West, now paused in thought, will have to decide whether lovely things, including courage and liberty, are worth defending, because the time is coming when the violent will bear these things away in their teeth.

And Joe Lieberman and Ned Lamont and Al Sharpton and Tommy Jackson and the Godly worshipers of Faith Baptist Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church in Stamford will, like Israel, be forced to choose between resistance and liberty or acquiescence and a slavery of the spirit that leads downward to the pit of cynicism, where liberty and courage are choked in blood.
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