- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 2004

The L-word

“The history of politics — more, the history of human thinking — is the history of words. Consider what happened to the word ‘liberal’ in the United States.

“It has become a Bad Word for millions of Americans. …

“In the year 1951, no less a demagogue than Sen. Joseph McCarthy still used ‘liberal’ positively, at least on one occasion. … In that very year Sen. Robert A. Taft, idol of recent American conservatives, thought it necessary to state that he was not a conservative but ‘an old-fashioned liberal.’ …

“In 1950, the cultural critic Lionel Trilling declared that the only dominant philosophy in America was the liberal one. In 1955, a Harvard professor, Louis Hartz, wrote that the perennial and prevalent American creed was liberalism.

“They were wrong. … Right before their eyes, antiliberalism was rising fast. … In 1955, the first self-described ‘conservative’ weekly of opinion appeared, the National Review, edited and directed by William F. Buckley Jr. It had few subscribers. Twenty-five years later, its circulation was larger than that of the Nation and the New Republic combined.”

John Lukacs, writing on “The Triumph and Collapse of Liberalism,” in today’s issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education

Vice and virtue

“Much of the ‘culture’ we consume is graphic and electronic. Most of us have watched more screens of entertainment — on TV, in movies, video games and computers — than any other activity not required to sustain life. …

“To hold channel-surfing audiences, much performance on television is more exaggerated than ever. Exhibitionism is encouraged. …

“The fashion industry transmits the stagey flamboyance of hip-hop culture and pop-diva culture straight to the street now. Hip-hop artists, having forgotten what’s up, morph from pretend criminals into real criminals. …

“There are simple words to describe what we are seeing lots of now: vanity, anger, impatience, envy, egocentrism, arrogance. Oh yes, vices are not crimes. But standing under a constant electronic shower of them will wash away what might be called the smaller, quieter virtues, such as humility, restraint, modesty, respect, tact, patience, generosity, prudence, piety — that stuff.”

Daniel Henninger, writing on “From McLuhan to Artest,” last Friday in the Wall Street Journal

Dull Dylan

“A CBS promo for [the network’s] ‘60 Minutes’ interview with Bob Dylan asked portentously: ‘Why is Bob Dylan giving his first television interview in 19 years?’ After the 15-minute segment was up, viewers might still be asking the same question, since neither of the participants seemed to much care about the proceedings.

“Dylan displayed the flat affect of the clinically depressed, avoiding eye contact, mumbling evasively and sometimes visibly wincing at Ed Bradley’s questions, which were not just toothless but gumless. Not that there’s any need to put the 63-year-old artist through the wringer, but for God’s sake, at least ask him something that rises to the level of mildly interesting cocktail chatter. …

“Bradley neglected to ask his subject anything about music, current events, pop culture or religion. Instead, the interview dwelled awkwardly on Bradley’s amazement at the fact that Dylan might not enjoy being a celebrity.”

Dana Stevens, writing on “Deadpan Alley,” Monday in Slate at www.slate.com

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