Tuesday, February 06, 2007 | What a familiar feeling this week, for millions of Americans, to look at Tom DeLay’s face at the top of the news and be both glad and sad. Glad that we are not card-carrying members of the Republican right, forced to imagine that Tom DeLay is something other than what the news reports him to be. And sad because he was supposed to represent not only them, but us, too, in the U.S. Congress.
It is especially conflicting for those non-rightists in San Diego, where so recently we smirked at Duke Cunningham’s fall, but then had to look into his face, and listen to his contrition, and realize that his sorrow was no match for the sorrow of those of us he was supposed to lead.
It must be that sense of sorrow, over disgraced leaders, added to our natural cultural inclination to forgive, that makes us so resilient. That may not be such a good thing. If Americans were half as demanding as they are resilient, a lot of us would feel better about the country’s future.
The millions of us who are not card-carrying members of the Republican right are not card-carrying members of the Democratic left, either. We remember being so grateful for that when President Clinton was in trouble for getting after it with a White House intern. Was this the man the Democrats wanted to lead the nation?
It’s the same way we feel now, grateful that we are not card-carrying Republican conservatives having to read about their own party’s doubts about the leadership of a president, the Brownie and Harriet man, in whom they have invested their political, social and moral identity.
If these millions of us aren’t card-carrying Democratic liberals or Republican conservatives, then who are we?
Well, we are resilient, for one thing. In the years between his resignation and his death, we made a place in our thinking for Richard Nixon as a sort of avuncular counselor, whose opinion of national and world affairs was welcomed in the media. It is true that, at his death, many objected to his being afforded a state funeral, even if it was outdoors in California instead of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Many of us only watched on television because the ceremony was about the office, and its nobility, and not the man, and his transgressions. In so doing, we permitted the man back into the office, but that was okay, because we are so resilient. We forgive.
It was hard for us to believe the reports of what went on with the president of the United States who had a fling with a brunette intern. For the most amazing sentence ever written about a President of the United States, I nominate this one, from the Starr Report: “Additionally, the President inserted a cigar into Miss Lewinski’s vagina.”
The millions of us are reminded of how fun it was, to snicker at the bewilderment of the card-carrying Democratic left, who had placed all their social, political and moral investments in Bill Clinton’s hands, and how sad it was, too. Not only for them, but for all of us, because it was all of us, truly, who had such a stake in how the president would lead us. It was not just their hopes and future, but ours, too.
Today, Bill Clinton is not only welcomed in the media, he is a media star, and named to global commissions, and founder of global commissions, and we look at him, and we remember what he did, but we watch him anyway, because we are so resilient. We forgive.
It is hard to imagine a future day when a president as unaccomplished as George W. Bush has ascended to a role of merit in the national thinking, who is sought after by the media, and whom we will watch, as a result of whatever appeal to him that time might provide. It is hard to imagine our granting him a future statesman’s role.
Of course we will, because we are so resilient. Yes, it is tempting to wonder if the administration of George W. Bush has provided the last straw, both to the Republican right, and to the other millions of us. The right, this time, might start to realize that leadership takes more than politics. And the millions of others of us may wonder if resilience this time might yield to need. This may be the era in the American experiment when the experiment needs to be turned around, and the millions decide to hold accountable their presidents for where they put their cigars and locate their wars.
In that case, Americans will become more than half as demanding as we are resilient. It is a reasonable place to start. It is all our futures, not just theirs.
Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His Web site is at