Monday, October 13, 2008

Dignity. Always dignity.

Remember that line from 'Singin' In The Rain'? Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly), the big silent movie star, is answering soft-soap interview questions by Hollywood gossip columnist Dora Bailey, and sums up for his fans the motto that has governed his entire career: "Dignity. Always dignity." Of course, we then see flashback clips of how his career REALLY developed, and it's an endless parade of the worst, most vulgar vaudeville routines imaginable: from tapdancing for pennies in a pool hall to slipping on banana peels, seltzer down the trousers, pie in the kisser, you name it.

I'm starting to get that same feeling of faux gravitas from the way John McCain is running the final weeks of his presidential campaign. With our Canadian election over tomorrow, attention turns to the much more interesting events in the U.S., and McCain seems to be campaigning in the Lockwood style, refusing to descend to outright criticism of his "friend" Senator Obama, and going into full spinster aunt finger-wagging mode to chastise the unruly voters who have the bad manners to boo the Democrat they want to defeat.

The Bush family has always had this lofty sense that they shouldn't HAVE to fight, that somehow the world should be allowed to voluntarily arrange itself into a pleasing pattern where the good and the worthy (them) are effortlessly wafted to their appropriate position on top. Fighting is both common and disrespectful of Providence, or Destiny, and though you can TALK about it, actually DOING it (except to put on a little show for the groundlings) is a sort of violation of the natural order of things. I've always felt that George Bush sees his progress through the world almost like the launching of an ocean liner - a dignified, slow, smooth glide, almost imperceptible at first, as the ship begins to move, yet unstoppable in its grave dignity. McCain seems to have adopted this che sarà sarà air of above-it-all superciliousness too.

We Canadians have kings and queens to capture this sense of "natural" superiority, but Americans don't, so occasionally someone will try to transfer it into the only position available - the presidency. Meanwhile, we all know that the reality is more like the vaudeville circuit - crude, ugly, uncomfortable, full of failure and narrow escapes. So it's deeply annoying to hear John McCain try to push this Hollywood fantasy of a presidential campaign that can float him like a butterfly on a warm breath of dignity and politeness and senatorial camaraderie into the White House. Ordinary people know that that isn't the way it happens, and they resent being treated like the saps who read Dora Bailey's column in the movie magazines.

Naturally, this leads me to a Chesterton quote, about this obsession with the unimportant at the expense of the important:
They always put the important fact in brackets, and the unimportant fact in the main sentence. For instance, there have been quarrels in the House of Commons of late as to whether there is really an unreasonable amount of corruption in the distribution of peerages, and the uses of the secret party-fund. Some members alleged that there was really abominable corruption; and it may be that some members alleged this with needless bitterness, and even with an appearance of personal enminty. But that does not alter the fact that the question of the alleged corruption is the important question, and the question of whether it was raised in the right way comparatively an unimportant question. A man declares that our politics are no longer pure, that our leaders do not reach their powers and honours by honest merits or even by honest heredity, but by purchase of the blankest and most brutal kind. If this is a lie it is a horrible lie; if it is a truth it is a horrible truth. The man who says it is either a slanderer or a patriot; in no case can it be the important question whether he is a well-behaved fellow. Yet all the newspapers I have seen have commented on the event exactly in the manner of that old friend of mine who made a wild use of brackets and conjunctions. All the newspapers have said, "Whether or no we think the member's attack on corrupt peerages justifiable no one can defend the way in which he did it." Or they say, "Whatever be the truth about the funds which Mr. So-and-So attacked, he might at least learn to state it in good taste." None of these journalists seem to see that they are making a frightfully urgent and essential thing depend upon and be secondary to a comparatively unimportant thing.
As usual when discussing any matter of evasive stupidity, examples from the world of Anglicanism abound. Many Anglicans and Episcopalians are more concerned with going down to the grave with their shrouds appropriately starched and folded than with getting sweaty and grubby in a combat that could save their lives. I always thought it was infuriating that a person could say the most appalling things about Mrs. Schori - that she's a hell-bound heretic, blaspheming the sacraments and dragging souls to the depths with her - and have such things received calmly, whereas a comment about her ugly hairdo will be scrupulously upbraided. How can it be a matter of no importance to say that the woman is a spiritual Gomorrah, but a matter of outrage to say that she isn't pretty?


Blogger Priscilla said...

My daughter and I have been working at the GOP HQ since July.(un-paid volunteers) We have "debate-watching parties. One of the attendees tried to shush us when ever we cheered our side or booed the Obama or Biden. She didn't like it when we acted like partisan political activists! Can you imagine, we were having fun. They are sooooo open-minded. She proceeded to tell us in no uncertain terms we were being disrespectful. (we later learned - to no one's surprise - she has always been a Dem)
Here in Portland we have even had molokov cocktails thrown at McCain signs. We get so many requests for sign replacements I've begun suggesting they smear axle grease on the back of them, as one man did, to discourage the thieves.
It has become so bad, they actually reported it on the leftist network news.
Hope you had a pleasant Thanksgiving and good luck in your elections.

11:55 am  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

I read about the Molotov cocktails and the sign vandalism! I assume it was in your district, though for all I know, it could be happening elsewhere too. That's bad, and that's NOT what any reasonable person would consider expressing enthusiasm, it's just plain criminality. That doesn't happen here that much; I remember losing a sign or two when we lived downtown, years ago, but even then, we had an explanation in that the election campaign was coinciding with the nearby Exhibition (you know, a carnival with rides and agricultural exhibits) and we figured it was due to some louts who'd had too much beer. Things are more placid here, just by nature I think. But I still think that there's too much of a tendency to expect people to act as if they're always in a library. (Years ago, we would have said "in church", but we all know that THAT doesn't apply anymore!)

12:36 pm  
Anonymous Fitzroy said...

Chesterton was apparently born in the wrong century. It is interesting to understand the personalities involved in Chesterton's debates, but his commentary seems to skewer our own times more effectively. And we can only imagine what he might have said about Anglicanism today.

10:32 pm  

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