Saturday, February 04, 2006

Book Review: 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America

Imagine this scenario … You are riding on the bus (or subway or train) during rush hour. A businessman is talking loudly on his cell phone, just loud enough for everyone to hear of course. In the middle of the conversation, this seemingly intelligent, well-spoken man belts out the phrase, “What the f**k is that about?” A quick glance this way and that reveals none of the expected commotion—especially when there are parents riding with their small children.

The fact is, through many of the most important people in business, entertainment and academia, this great nation has become desensitized to obscene talk and material alike. What was considered taboo forty years ago is now as common as rap music and beer pong. This comprises the main argument of Bernard Goldberg’s latest book, “100 People Who Are Screwing Up America (And Al Franken is #37)”. The best summary of this argument comes in the introduction, where Goldberg states, “’You’re so judgmental’ became a major-league put-down in Anything Goes America—as if being judgmental of crap in the culture is a bad thing.”

The recurring theme of the book that arises time and again is that everything is acceptable, because to disapprove or to cast judgment might hurt someone’s precious feelings. For instance, in schools around the nation it has become “taboo” to correct grammar if a student uses slang, or perhaps to give every student a gold star as opposed to the best to avoid damaging a student’s self-esteem. It is “protected” speech to burn an American flag, to desecrate the Virgin Mary, and to call 9/11 victims “little Eichmanns”, yet an increasing number of college campuses are creating “free speech zones” and cleansing their grounds of “destructive” or “hateful” speech. Finally, we move to the “victimology” movement. Here we have the people who do some of the stupidest stunts imaginable and then somehow believe it is not their fault, and sue! Take, for example, a case Goldberg cites in New York, where a woman tried to commit suicide by laying on the subway tracks and waiting for a train. When she was hit by the train and suffered serious injuries, she sued the city of New York and won $14.1 million. Unfortunately for our “victim”, the jury cut her award to a mere $9.9 million.

The three points above are represented by several people on Goldberg’s list. A few of those names include:

  • James Wolcott, Vanity Fair columnist who said on Election Day 2004 that if Bush won he would offer a philosophical resignation saying, “Good, Go Ahead, America, Choke on Your Own Vomit, You Deserve to Die.”
  • Scott Harshbarger, who used his role as district attorney of Middlesex County (Massachusetts>) to launch a child abuse case against the Amirault family, which ran a day-care center in the town of Malden. An expert hired by 20/20 noted how during the investigation, children repeatedly denied the allegations until the interrogator finally got a sufficient answer. Seventy-two year old Violet Amirault spent over a decade in jail with her daughter and her son was released eight years afterward, all three being fully exonerated.
  • Ted Rall, editorial cartoonist who drew a cartoon after the death of Pat Tillman, the NFL-player turned soldier, with Tillman saying to the Army recruiter, “Never mind the fine print … Will I get to kill Arabs?” This coming from the man who calls himself “America’s B.S. Detector”.

These three cases are simply the tip of a much larger iceberg, evidence of the malice that is ruining our culture. Goldberg recalls the liberal argument that we are much better off now that blacks and women have more rights and are considered equal to white men. Keeping in mind that both of these are excellent social improvements, is the “anything goes” culture of today better than the level of decency evident fifty years ago? Bernie Goldberg thinks we can do much better, and his list shows many areas of society that need improvement.

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