Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Good Night, and Good Luck . . . redux

To be sure, it is no chronological accident that George Clooney wrote, directed, and performed in Good Night, and Good Luck last year. The movie arrived at a time when a nation is divided as much by differences of opinion as by the internecine discursive battles which spew daily out of the mouths of politicians and pundits. In a political milieu in which "you are either with us or against us," partisans will daily label their opponents as enemies of America. The ad hominem attack wears the facade of argument.

Nonetheless, dissent and disagreement are not the seeds of this nation's destruction but the prerequisite ingredients for the furthering and flowering of democracy. Voicing a contrary opinion is not a subversive alliance with the enemy but a profound commitment to the fundamentals of the American experiment. Exposing our own shortcomings and even crimes is not a salve for the enemy but a necessary and healthy acknowledgment that a democratic government does not liberate us from our sinful nature; polity does not inoculate us from embracing the tactics of our enemies for the sake of expediency.

America's burden then is fundamentally unfair. If we are to proclaim our values, we must embody them, even when their costs are exorbitantly, even prohibitively, high. If we do not abide by our values when the stakes are high, then they are the worthless rhetorical flourishes of sophistry.

Above all else, however, our leaders must be held accountable for their actions. Our leaders must earn our trust beyond the shadow of any doubt. Our leaders must never sacrifice the hard road of our values for the expediency of shallow victories. In other words, convincing the world to embrace democratic values happens not on the deck of an aircraft carrier while declaring a premature victory or in the snuffing of an enemy's life boldly proclaimed with graphic pictures of a corpse. That intellectual battle is won in a productive, difficult discourse in which we are all held the highest standard.

See the film; it is a beautifully crafted piece of art. Yet, more importantly, it is an incisive critique of our own times. The film, however, is not interested in assigning a villainous role to a particular cross-section of our population. It is not conservatives or liberals, the media or politics which are at the film's crosshairs; instead, Good Night, and Good Luck indicts us all for our silence, for our cynical appeal to the rhetoric of division, no matter our political leanings.