Rich Mayfield: The path to Curmudgeonville
Vail CO, Colorado
It was time for my semi-annual lunch with my friend who is poles apart from me politically, but whose wartime service as a Marine in Vietnam gives him far more conservative credence than the chicken-hawks who parlayed their incompetence into the quagmire of Iraq and continue to squander any vestige of our nation’s goodwill.
Every six months or so, we get together with our wives for a catch-up on children and grandchildren, personal ailment inventories and other various and sundry semi-retirement matters. It doesn’t take long, once the ladies start passing their photos back and forth, for the two of us to go back and forth on other matters.
“I’m turning into one of those cranky old curmudgeons,” my long-time friend began,
“I’m becoming the cynic I never wanted to be.” I could tell he had been listening to Rush Limbaugh again so I reminded him that the first item on the anti-curmudgeon inventory was to turn talk-radio off. It’s nothing but a training ground for conspiracy theorists and right-wing-nuts who too often confuse partisanship with patriotism and believe the Bill of Rights was penned only for people like them.
Nevertheless, as I soon realized, it was easy to be sympathetic to his concern as there is much fodder for cynicism about these days. This week, for instance, we could read of the Chinese government’s successful scheme to pay off grieving parents in order that they may stop complaining about the catastrophic collapse of hundreds of school buildings in the recent and ruinous earthquake in Sichuan Province. As the Beijing Olympics draws ever closer, the Beijing government is understandably concerned about any negative publicity and is rallying its considerable force to silence criticism from that front or any other. One certainly assumes the Olympic Organizing Committee is equally eager for a tranquil two weeks of athletic competition that avoids political controversy. But at what price? Surely paying off the parents of dead 6- and 7-year-olds seems mighty high indeed.
The president of Sudan, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, following his indictment by the International Criminal Court for crimes of genocide, made a whirlwind tour of the ravaged Darfur region promising the beleaguered residents all kinds of wonderful rewards for keeping their mouths shut. After allowing government supported militias to rape, pillage and burn with impunity, al-Bashir apparently is ready to let bygones be bygones. Russia and China certainly share the same sentiment and suggest that any criminal action against Sudan’s exalted ruler would only obstruct the fragile and ongoing peace process. The two super powers, both of whom have a vested interest in Sudan’s status quo, don’t seem particularly concerned about obstructing justice, however.
In the same category of ends coldly justifying means, Sen. Joe Lieberman, ex-Democrat and current best friend of John McCain, continues to cozy up to TV evangelist John Hagee whose recent remarks concerning Roman Catholics and homosexuals had McCain vociferously vetoing Hagee’s endorsement of him. Independent Joe, however, continues to be buddy-buddy with this big time bigot primarily because they both share a common commitment to shoring up security in Israel at any cost. Politics, we all know, makes for strange bedfellows, but surely Lieberman is aware that the Evangelical Christian Hagee believes in a strong Israel only because of his bizarre conviction that Jesus needs such a political stronghold in order to come back to earth and either convert the Jews to Christianity or condemn them for all eternity. Such contemptuous cooperation offers ever more evidence for my friend’s cynical slide.
Of course, there is more. Even as the Bush Administration stumbles through its final few months, a number of highly revealing and deeply disturbing accounts of White House operations from White House insiders have hit the bookstores and fed the blogs. Neither of us old friends are particularly naive, but we both marveled over the political malfeasance of this administration. The deceptive rationales, the woeful ignorance and the downright lies of Bush and Co. have come perilously close to turning the virtue of public service into a bastion of private corruption … ever more reasons to join my friend on the path to curmudgeonism.
As lunch continued, and as I was drawn dangerously close to cynical cronyism by these acts of evidence and more, the topic, thankfully, turned to lighter matters. Movies we’ve seen, books we are reading. My friend is a history buff whose course to curmudgeon land is occasionally interrupted, he admitted, by the inspired and inspiring folk who’ve gone before. We reminded one another of other times in our collective history when the citizenry were equally disheartened.
By dessert, we buoyed each other up with familiar stories of founding fathers and others who rose above the temptation of their times for sliding into cynicism and instead forged a nation and shaped a world that allowed two old friends, curmudgeons or not, the freedom to enjoy a feisty semi-annual lunch.
Rich Mayfield is the author of “Reconstructing Christianity: Notes from the New Reformation.” E-mail comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.