Tuesday, September 11, 2012

No good speech goes unpunished

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Never are we humans -- stupid, sorry wretches that we are -- so contemptible as we are when wholly convinced that we're as moral and worthy as the other guy is depraved and unfit.

No one likes a self-righteous jerk, and for good reason. So I guess we can start right there when pondering why everybody hates America today.

Today is the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. In what may be a reasonably reliable sign of al Qaida's ultimate victory in the resulting War on Terror, many Americans have spent this Patriot Day -- today of all days -- trashing Vice President Joe Biden for referring to the anniversary as a "bittersweet moment."

Unsurprisingly, talk-radio blowhards Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have been leading the charge. From Politico:

Hannity blasted Biden as either “callous” or “ignorant beyond belief” for using the word “bittersweet” to discuss the 9/11 anniversary, and Limbaugh told his listeners that “with 9/11, it’s all bitter.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Biden addressed a crowd at the United Airlines Flight 93 memorial and said it was a “genuine honor” to be there.

“But like all of the families, we wish we weren’t here. We wish we didn’t have to be here. We wish we didn’t have to commemorate any of this. And it’s a bittersweet moment for the entire nation, for all of the country, but particularly for those family members gathered here today,” Biden said in Shanksville, Pa.

With the “bittersweet” remark, Hannity said that the “vice president buffoon is at it again.”

“Does he even know what the word bittersweet means? What on earth is bittersweet about what happened on 9/11? Explain the sweet part, Mr. Vice President,” Hannity said.

“What happened on 9/11 was unmitigated evil,” he added after playing a clip from Biden’s 9/11 speech. “I don’t see describing it bittersweet. It either means you’re just callous or you’re just ignorant beyond belief and don’t know the meaning of what the term bittersweet is.”

Biden wasn’t the only one to use the word “bittersweet” in his remarks on Tuesday. National Park Service Flight 93 National Memorial superintendent Jeff Reinhold used the term “bittersweet” in his Tuesday address before Biden spoke to the gathering. In a transcript of his prepared remarks, Reinhold said, “and a very special welcome to the families of the 40 passengers and crew of Flight 93. As always, it is bittersweet to have you with us again.”

“As you can imagine, it’s been an incredibly personal and emotional journey,” Reinhold wrote in an email to POLITICO. “The families have been involved in every aspect of the process and I — and our entire staff — have developed wonderful friendships and very close bonds with many of them. We look forward to their visits in September and throughout the year, but always with a tinge of regret as we know it is a tragedy that brought us together. ‘Bittersweet’ seemed very appropriate and is a term that I think many of the families would use to describe their relationship with the staff at the Memorial.”

Hannity also slammed the media’s response to Biden’s “bittersweet” comment.
“And I can say this — and I’m trying to stay away from politics — if a Republican vice president had said this, the criticism, the ridicule, would come on like an avalanche,” he said.
PERHAPS IT'S merely that Hannity's and Limbaugh's minds cannot deal with complexity. Maybe it's that these gentlemen have an insufficient understanding of grace, particularly that which arises from great tragedy or evil, confirming for our hearts that "the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not."

Then again, maybe it's something else entirely with Hannity and Limbaugh. (See Paragraph 2.)

Whatever the reason for a really, really pointless and deeply, deeply idiotic attack on the vice president on this day -- Really? REALLY??? -- that it could be made and taken seriously at all should be a sign of how very sick we have become as a country . . . and as a people. As a fever is sign of an infection, this kind of mindless, hyperpartisan and wildly popular spleen-venting is a sign of a nation deathly ill from a poison that has overtaken the heart and has spread to the brain.

Look around you today. Watch the TV news or pick up a newspaper -- if you dare. For God's sake, spend even 10 minutes on Facebook. If Osama bin Laden was responsible 11 years ago for setting in motion even 15 percent of what we Americans now freely and lustily do unto each other, history will award him an honored place in the Pantheon of Evil Genius.

That we are talking about this today, 11 years after witnessing unspeakable horror unfold on our television screens, says much about us, none of it good.

We have become so practiced at blithely dehumanizing our ideological opponents that our own humanity now comes into question. Are we still human? Or, perhaps, have we become some new thing -- some sort of antihuman being.

Then again, it's a story that's as old as Rome and as sick as Hitler. We just can't help ourselves.

BUT AS we take to Facebook, Twitter and talk radio to call the vice president callous, a dumbass or worse as we peer down upon him from our high horse, it might be worth it to consider that he just might know a lot more about the subject of suffering -- not to mention what is and isn't "bittersweet" -- than the vast majority of us ever will. Actually, TPM's editor, David Kurtz, did consider just that:
Rarely do I watch Joe Biden give a speech or an interview without looking for some evidence, in his eyes or the lines of his face, of the fact that he lost half of his young family when he was 30 years old. It is inconceivable to me, always has been, but especially in the years since I became a father. For all his goofballism, Biden has gone through a crucible that I cannot imagine. And he did so when he was 30, an adult, already deeply invested in the life he was building.

That’s not to diminish the tragedies that children endure. But at 30 years old to lose your wife and baby daughter, to almost lose your two toddler sons, and to somehow carry on? It truly baffles me. I know everyone says you do what you have to do. But that’s not really true. You don’t. You could curl up in the fetal position, if not literally then emotionally, and shrivel up. I’m more certain that that’s what I would do than I am confident I would find a way to persevere. But Biden has been through it. He’s seen hell and been back.

That he served his entire 36-year Senate career after that searing experience in December 1972, shortly after winning election, and then went on to become vice president, adds some drama to the story, I suppose. But for me the emotional highlight is just him getting out of bed the next day, and the day after that, and the one after that.

Which brings me to Joe Biden’s speech today in Shanksville, Penn., commemorating the victims of Sept. 11, 2001. The speech is marvelously and sensitively written. But rendered by Biden, drawing on his own life experience, in rhetorical ways that are not ostentatious and which don’t try to elevate his own story above those of the victims’ families, it packs a wallop that still makes me cut him a lot of slack for his sometime inexplicable goofiness.
I DISAGREE with the vice president on many things, particularly social issues. But I do well to remember that God loves him just like He does me . . . and that Joe Biden has guts. It takes guts -- and more than a little strength of character -- to survive, as he has, not only shattering grief but the shattering of one's whole world.

The way I figure it, if Rush, Sean and all the angry birds on Twitter actually had to walk a mile in the vice president's shoes, we might find out who the real "dumbass" and "buffoon" is. (ANSWER: Not Joe Biden.)

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