Last night I was listening to a commentary by Daniel Schorr, an OLD hand in Washington journalism, and an unabashed liberal. I really enjoy Mr. Schorr’s commentaries, because they usually tell truth to power, hold people’s feet to the fire, and he does it so well. Last night citing the Blagojavich and Madoff scandals and recent news of corruption in the allocation of funds for Iraqi reconstruction, Schorr had them on the ropes, and I was sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for the knock-out punch. He set them up with a jab, “I am unhappily reminded of my time in the Soviet Union, where bribery and other corruption were so commonplace as to be accepted as a dismal fact of life. Health care was nominally free, but it took a bribe to see a doctor. America isn’t there yet, but it badly needs. . . .”
Needs what, Dan? A good swift kick in the pants? A return to morality and honesty? Fire from heaven? What?
“[I]t badly needs some regulatory policing.” My heart sank. C’mon, Dan; that’s it? Where’s the righteousness in your righteous indignation? Where’s the morality in your moral high ground?
As one of the great investigative journalists of the 20th century, Dan Schorr is advocating a bailout for journalism—not for the news industry, but for the function of the gadfly. Schorr is asking government to police regular old decency.
If the government is given the power to police righteousness, then it also has the power to define righteousness. Unfortunately, our society has whittled down so thin what is “righteousness” that it can’t come to common ground. And so the normal societal influences that should push people toward righteousness are too weakened to have a significant effect.
As told to Thomas Friedman by a Hong Kong banker (in reference to the financial industry, but, I think, more widely applicable), “It is hard for America to take its own medicine that it prescribed successfully for others. There is no doctor anymore. The doctor himself is sick.”
America has so long been a world leader, not only for its military and economic might, but because of moral might, its altruism as evidenced by the Marshall Plan and other actions.
But now the doctor is sick. The world no longer has an example in America of goodness and altruism because these characteristics have become so undervalued within her. We have become prideful and selfish in a way only the wealthy can be, and adherence to all the Christian values that made America great has cracked under the weight of providing ourselves with McMansions, Hummers, 3-car garages, and 72-inch televisions. Conservatives think these are the rewards of righteousness, and Liberals think they’re the rewards of good governance. But they’re really the rewards of misplaced priorities, compromised values, and an eye single to the glory of “me.”