- The Washington Times - Friday, December 2, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION

The Christmas season is hard upon us and it’s time to be happy and gay. (Uh, better make that cheerful.) But it won’t be easy. The culture has been poisoned by an excess of excess.

We suffer from too much of everything. The search for the new thing, for passion, thrills and excitement finally becomes what the French, who have a suggestive name for everything, call “ennui.” In plain English, the excess of excess is ultimately boring.

The excess of entertainment swallows up all. You could watch trashy movies, mindless sitcoms and other television perversions 24/7, and a lot of people do. Sports is the national drug. There were sighs of relief at the prospect there might not be a professional basketball season this year, when the owners and players couldn’t get together on how to coordinate their greed, and sighs of disappointment when a half-season was salvaged. Soon the college football bowl season will be here, with so many “classics” that only the worst teams can escape bowls celebrating pizza, home mortgages, auto mufflers, fried chicken and even hunger. (We ran out of fruits, flowers and vegetables to commemorate.)

Not so long ago, the election of a president invited long, thoughtful reflection, but that was before presidential campaigns became an excess of entertainment, too, with stand-up comics in search of sound bites posing as candidates for cable-TV “debates” that are anything but. This year the Republican “debates” enter the stretch toward the Iowa caucuses as a contest to see who’s hiding the naughtiest past. Is it better to have a collection of long-suffering wives or a collection of money-grubbing mistresses? If only Busby Berkeley were still around to direct the Republican campaign as “Gold Diggers of 2011.”

This was the campaign that was supposed to be a Republican slam dunk, and maybe it will be, but only because Anybody But Obama is still the favorite at 3-to-2. The sweet-talking golden prince of Chicago continues to wallow in the excess of excess, too. Herman Cain was derided as ignorant because he hadn’t heard of the war in Libya, but President Obama, who earlier thought he had campaigned in “57 states,” only this week denounced the sacking of “the English embassy” in Tehran. Learning even the rudiments of geography and history are gone with the wind that long since blew through our schools, but you might think that someone at the White House could have told the president that British embassies replaced “English embassies” 300 years ago (more or less).

Newt Gingrich, the history perfesser who knows how to count states and how to identify embassies, is at the moment soaring at the altitudes once enjoyed by Rick Perry and Herman Cain. He’d best enjoy it now. He got a reminder this week that old times are not necessarily forgotten. Richard Land, the ethics and religious liberty guru at the Southern Baptist Convention, said Christian conservatives, particularly in the crucial South, still haven’t heard a convincing Gingrich mea culpa. “If you want to get large numbers of evangelicals, particularly women, to vote for you,” he told the former speaker, “you must address the issue of your marital past in a way that allays the fears of evangelical women.”

Newt thought he had put his checkered past aside, forswearing his old habits as a Baptist and adopting a new Roman Catholic faith, and even tried to explain what happened in his earlier marriages. “There’s no question at times in my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country,” he told the Christian Broadcasting Network, “that I worked too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.” This was a cute argument, that patriotism is not only a refuge for a scoundrel but for the bounder as well. But it hasn’t satisfied everyone.

Some voices, weary of the excess of excess, argue that the cure for what ails us is a return to the smoke-filled rooms that produced Abraham Lincoln, the two Roosevelts and Harry Truman, among others. “The vetting process,” writes Robert Merry in National Interest magazine, “has been truncated to a point where it relies on happenstance to save the system from people nobody really knows and who may be hiding serious flaws.” Dan Henninger of the Wall Street Journal agrees. Instead of rigorously vetted candidates, he says, “we get mysterious candidates who have wandered in from Nowhere Land or obscure state-senate offices.” He wants to dismantle the campaign-finance laws, with all their bureaucratic bungling, that “are smothering good candidates in the crib.”

Now there’s a worthy wish for this season of excesses: Saying goodbye and good riddance to the excess of fluff, trivia and candidates whose only qualification for office is their good opinion of themselves.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.