By JAY AMBROSE
You will know America by knowing Americans, which is to say, the news is both good and bad, heartening and disheartening.
Start with a good man, with Joe Lieberman, a three-term U.S. senator who just lost the Democratic primary in Connecticut, not because of scandal or something badly amiss, but because of integrity, because he put principle above party and his re-election interests.
He may yet laugh last _ he has a decent chance of winning in November’s general election as an independent _ but he had to know that his stance on Iraq was hurting him with Democrats in his state. He did not, therefore, join with other members of his party urging the start of U.S. troop evacuation without regard for whether the Iraqi government can take care of itself or not.
Lieberman’s rare hallmark as a politician is an intellectually honest open-mindedness that has left him ready to consider any number of positions _ school vouchers, for example _ that don’t emanate from the liberalism he basically believes in. He has never been the kind of partisan who jumps up and down on the opposition for the sake of self-advantage that ultimately hurts the common welfare. Agree with him or not, there is much about him that is flat-out exemplary.
No so with Democrat Cynthia McKinney, the Georgia representative in the U.S. House who also went down in a primary. The reason? Jews, maybe? The last time she lost a primary, her father said Jews had defeated her with their money, and this time around some of her followers were reported to be singing the same anti-Semitic song.
She herself ranted about a conspiracy to defraud the voters with electronic voting machines, as if the defeat had nothing to do with her slugging of a U.S. Capitol cop or the violence she does with her mouth, as in the suggestion she once made that the Bush administration knew what was coming on 9/11 and just let it happen.
There is a fierce, self-excusing, zany, bigoted radicalism in all of this, and it’s devoutly to be hoped that McKinney does not rise again.
Look now to Mel Gibson, who had anti-Semitic things to say to police after being arrested for drunken driving. He’s an alcoholic, the American-born, Australia-raised actor-director-producer confessed, but that is no excuse for an attitude that seems to have been part of his makeup for some time, and even a subsequent apology is not going to erase reports of his arrest-night tirade from the memories of many of us.
Gibson’s bigotry seems to have derived from a similar bigotry embraced by his father, which is not an excuse, either. One of the 20th century’s most powerful lessons was that such prejudice can lead to unspeakable evil. No sane, rational person with any human feeling whatsoever should be able to look at the undeniable facts of the Holocaust and still screech ugly things about Jews. But then, Gibson seems to have held back some from agreeing that all these facts were undeniable. Maybe he has now reformed, or maybe he has simply found himself in a tough spot and is trying to get out of his troubles. An issue for him is whether many people are going to want to see any of his new movies. I might be persuaded to go if the movie were about the moral idiocy of Holocaust denial.
Finally, let’s offer some words of praise for Tiger Woods, whose extraordinary accomplishments in golf appear matched by extraordinary character.
There have been mainly minor criticisms of this athlete along the way, some of them perhaps justified, but a lack of perfection does not take away from what strikes you most about him: the understated, intelligent, dignified manner in which he generally conducts himself, and his unstinting pursuit of excellence. Given the fact that his life from early childhood has been devoted so much to one thing, a sport, you might assume his personality would lack balance, but that does not seem to be the case. Instead, he seems a very nice guy who just keeps on winning, recently coming in first for the 11th time in a major professional tournament and claiming a total of 50 PGA victories by the age of 30.
Ours is a nation of almost 300 million people, and there’s scarcely anything definitive to be learned in the stories of four of the better-known ones, though there are some suggestions there of what we are like in the early 21st century, for better and for worse.
(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)aol.com.)