THERE ONCE WAS A SECULAR HUMANIST: Who later took a job as a columnist! Readers, Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo! Patricia Nelson Limerick hired on at the Times to write some fill-in columns for Dowd. And uh-oh! After a semi-glib remark in her second column—a semi-putdown ofsecular humanists—she seems to have gotten some negative e-mails. And boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo! Today, she devotes her entire fourth column to these troubling, unquoted missives. In so doing, she reminds us of former public editor Daniel Okrent, who was throwing similar pity parties by the time of his own Column 4.
Amazing, isnt it? Limerick gets the chance to explore any subject on the nations most influential page. And by the time of her fourth column, it turns out to be all about her! In fairness, Limerick says that shes really looking for ways to revive the better angels of our nature. But even when shes doing that, she cant resist taking another dumb shot at those troubling secular humanists:
LIMERICK (7/2/05): Concluding his First Inaugural Address, President Abraham Lincoln expressed his hope for a resurgence of ''the better angels of our nature.''Oh shut up! Where do they find these simpering idiots, these lightweights, these weak, scripted simps?
As national unity dissolved in 1861, those angels were ducking for cover and rarely to be seen. And even though our own times cannot match 1861 in peril, our angels seem at the moment to be heading for the hills.
Therefore, on this holiday weekend, I take the opportunity to propose some new holidays in the hope of encouraging ''the better angels of our nature'' to come out of hiding and give us a hand.
Alas, the very fact that I have used a metaphor associated with a particular religious tradition has probably damaged my cause.
Earth to Limerick: Our better angels have been in trouble for decades; if a columnist gets a few naughty e-mails, the significance pales beside the decades of slime and hoaxing that have driven our national discourse. Limericks original (second) column was vastly simple-minded; in it, she reduced a large problem (a problem she didnt really try to explore) to a personal matter between James Watt and Bill Moyers. But today, in Column 4, its all about her. Someone wrote Limerick some unpleasant e-mails. The rest of us have to discuss it.
The better angels of our nature have been on the run for decades. We all would gain if we saw this discussed. Why cant the Times find subs who are able to perform such a service?
Final note: Will others join us in begging Collins to bring Dowd back as soon as possible? The previous fill-in, Stacy Schiff, had also dissolved into pointless self-reference by the time of her fourth (and final) column. And talk about complete vacuity! In her second column, Schiff explored a mighty theme; she complained that there are too many choices when you visit the toothpaste aisle. (No, were not joking; this was her topic.) By Column 4, she was discussing the way her view of Little Women had been criticized in TNR.
For the record, Laura Ingalls Wilder was exploring the perils of the new Product Culture as early as 1917. (In the Missouri Ruralist. Samples below.) Earth to Schiff: Everyone knows that we have too much toothpaste. And guess what? Nobody cares!
Are Schiff and Limerick the Revenge of Gail Collins? Are we all being punished now for the days when we criticized Dowd?
BETTER ANGELS ON THE RUN: The better angels of our nature have been on the run for the past twenty years. No, it isnt worth a hill of beans if some scribe gets a nattering e-mail. But the slime and hoaxing have changed our world in ways that liberals should insist on discussing. Keeping that larger problem in mind, we now repeat our Friday post about some new words from John Harris:
NEW WORDS FROM JOHN HARRIS: Weve been reading The Survivor, John Harris fascinating capsule history of the Clinton years. Well discuss the book at length in the future, but as we head to a holiday weekend, we thought you might want to read Harris account of the Clintons marriage. King Slimeball, Ed Klein, has been out there all month, sliming his way toward fame and fortune. There theyve gone again, dear readers. But Harris offers a different view. What was the glue in the Clintons marriage? he asks. According to Harris, Even the cynics in the Clinton fold arrived in the end at the same noncynical answer: She loved him and felt loved by him in return:
HARRIS (page 379-380): Her Senate campaign provided a project upon which they could rebuild their marriage and remind themselves anew what it was that drew them to each other. They had been happiest together when they had separate endeavors, and unhappiest, as on overseas trips, when ceremony or public expectations forced her to play a secondary role to him. Now, they were like a couple that had separated. She was on the road in New York most nights; they might get an evening a week together. Yet the affection between them was more evident than it had been in years. She lit up when her called her while she was on the road. Her draft speech texts would fly back and forth between New York and Washington...He truly believed. And: She truly believed. Yes, there are problems with Harris book. But in an age of slime and hoaxing, Harris types words that have rarely emerged from sneering press corps mouths.
The relationship by some reckonings rested on mutual astonishment. He truly believed that she was a better and smarter person than anyone else he had ever knownmore committed, more passionate, more idealistic. She truly believed that he was the most impressive leader of his generation—a handsome and energetic man with a gift at human connection that to her mind was beyond comprehension. Paul Begala told friends he had figured out the secret of their relationship. Hillary and Bill both looked at each other and could not believe that the other person had married someone so undeserving.
WILDER, EIGHTY YEARS BACK: In a series of brilliant columns, Wilder explored the odd psychology of the emerging Product Culture. From a column titled The Things That Matter:
WILDER (January 1924): We are so overwhelmed with things these days that our lives are all, more or less, cluttered. I believe it is this, rather than a shortness of time, that gives us that feeling of hurry and almost helplessness. Everyone is hurrying and usually just a little late. Notice the faces of the people who rush past on the streets or on our country roads! They nearly all have a strained, harassed look, and anyone you meet will tell you there is no time for anything anymore.This was a recurrent theme. In What Became of the Time We Saved? Wilder penned the best joke that we know of:
Life is so complicated! The day of the woman whose only needed tool was a hairpin is long since passed. But we might learn something from her and her methods even yet, for life would be pleasanter with some of the strain removed—if it were no longer true, as someone has said, that things are in the saddle and rule mankind.
WILDER (April 1917): A few days ago, with several others, I attended the meeting of a womans club in a neighboring town. We went in a motor car, taking less than an hour for the trip on which we used to spend three hours before the days of motors cars; but we did not arrive at the time appointed nor were we the latest comers by any means. We hurried through the proceedings; we hurried in our friendly exchanges of conversation; we hurried away; and we hurried all the way home where we arrived late as usual.Three months later, she was at it again: We heap up around us things that we do not need as the crow makes piles of glittering pebbles. Thank goodness this brilliant observer didnt live to see the Times heaping up useless columns.
What became of the time the motor car saved us? We was everyone late and in a hurry? I used to drive leisurely over to this town with a team, spend a pleasant afternoon, and reach home not much later than I did this time, and all with a sense of there being time enough, instead of a feeling of rush and hurry. We have so many machines and so many helps, in one way and another, to save time; and yet I wonder what we do with the time we save. Nobody seems to have any!