Do you ever go online looking for something to read and just go numb? It happened to me yesterday. I’d just finished a piece on the one-year anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death, so I wanted to clear my head, catch up on the real world. Of course, there was King of Pop stuff all over the Web from The New York Times to News of the World, but hey, I get that. Michael Jackson was famous, really famous. The news of his death crashed Google! If there’s a greater indicator of one’s fame, I don’t know it. But all the other crap about faux celebrities that masquerades as news is such a bore. I could fill my entire column with a list of the people who think they are famous but aren’t, and yet their faces show up on my laptop. It’s partially my own fault—I shouldn’t go looking for love in the wrong places. But I crave distraction, so I head to TMZ, E! Online, or Perez Hilton. I’m having a really hard time facing hard news, and I suspect I’m not alone. It’s not just that so little of the actual news is good, but that so much of it is about well-respected people with important jobs acting like schmucks. I was going to write a cheat sheet for the political handling of a natural disaster. (Step one, the minute journalists start saying “worst ever,” get your POTUS butt there immediately and don’t wear a tie.) But now I just need to rant:
Where’s my change I can believe in? I’m losing the will to follow who said what in the relentless, increasingly childish bickering that’s become endemic in Washington. (Yes, Rep. Joe Barton and DNC spokesman Hari Sevugan, I’m talking to you, but you’re not the only ones.) I can’t even bear to think about 104,000 gallons of oil that were flowing into the Gulf of Mexico for 12 straight hours. The cap is back on and collecting 29,000 gallons an hour, but we’re still looking at the destruction of the livelihoods of millions of Americans, not to mention entire species of animals. Playing politics while the gulf dies isn’t why we elect officials. I’m sorry to get on my soapbox, but my own government is deeply disappointing me right now by playing politics in a moment of crisis.
And don’t even talk to me about this General McChrystal thing. My husband was in the first Persian Gulf war—he told me that the punishment for not keeping track of your rifle was they buried it in the desert and gave you a shovel. So McChrystal should feel lucky he just got relieved of command. He’s a four-star general and his aides should know better. And don’t blame it on the alcohol. If Special Forces guys can’t hold their liquor, I’d hate to see what they’d do if they became prisoners of war. And don’t smear the reporter, either—unless Michael Hastings slipped them rohypnol, he was just doing his job. What we should be focusing on is the fact that June was the deadliest month for our troops in Afghanistan over the course of this whole nine-year conflict. So I don’t care about whether his firing bodes well for the Democrats or Republicans in November. And I don’t care a whit about McChrystal’s aides being devastated. I care about getting the 94,000 servicemen and women out of a conflict that just doesn’t make any sense to me anymore or to most Americans, who no longer believe the war has been worth fighting, according to a poll this month by ABC and The Washington Post.
And what about all the important stories that no one is really covering at all? Did you know that the levees in New Orleans aren’t fixed yet? And that at least 46 states are projecting budget deficits for this year? Soon the Kagan hearings will start, and I’ll be bombarded with more mysogynistic nonsense. Or more speculation about the Gore marriage.
I just want a respite from all the metaphorical and literal sludge. I’m tired of worrying about when the next shoe will drop. What’s next? The Department of the Interior is secretly run by gene-modified elephants. The DOD uses shareware to defend our military secrets. The MMS was actually run by knuckleheads colluding with the oil companies—what if all of government works that way? And if you take into account the results of another Washington Post poll done earlier this year that showed two-thirds of Americans “are ‘dissatisfied’ or downright ‘angry’ about the way the federal government is working,” I know I’m not alone. In a very perceptive article in The New York Times about Obama’s struggles to shape his presidency, Matt Bai writes: “On a deeper level, though, we may be reacting to our own lack of control as workers, providers, and parents. For about 40 years, since the onset of industrial decline, Americans have been trying to negotiate an increasingly unstable economic and cultural landscape, the effects of which are clear in any community where factories or farms (or often both) have withered away—substance abuse, failing schools, higher rates of crime and divorce. The chaos is all around us, and what we ask of a president, increasingly, is to somehow use the instruments of government to rein it in.” That’s exactly how I feel, and no amount of distraction from Glee or Lindsay Lohan’s nonsense seems to help. Maybe it’s time to start watching The Wire. I just need a little “soma.” You know, the government-dispensed mood-control drug from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. It’s described by Huxley as the perfect antidote for my civic depression: “If ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there’s always soma to give you a holiday from the facts.” How about a bipartisan committee to examine that?