Proverbs vs. 'Hardball'

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Bad candidates, dreary campaign, unsatisfying result. Not since the Clarence Thomas–Anita Hill hearings has there been a public spectacle from which everyone emerged somehow diminished — smudged.

But how much damage, really? The losers, their minds reverberating with their own dire rhetoric, will work themselves into a state. They will want to fling themselves off cliffs, like the Japanese on Okinawa when the Americans arrived in 1945. That's the human nature of politics. When Rudolph Giuliani first ran for mayor of New York City, the editorial board of The New York Times sounded as if Hitler himself aspired to City Hall. In the fullness of time, the Times came to concede that in many respects, Giuliani proved to be an excellent mayor.

The Web lends itself to demonization, and the air this week is thick with paranoid e-mail to the effect that a second Bush administration will end civilization as we know it. The wretched of America will be turned out in the snow on Christmas eve. Bloated middle-aged white men will ride about the town on the backs of blacks and Hispanics, as if on the backs of burros; back-alley coathangers will return women to the reign of an American Taliban. (In the privacy of their own minds, most conservatives, I suspect, believe that as a matter of practical politics and social consensus, it would not be worth setting off a second American civil war by trying to overturn Roe V. Wade.)

Conversely, if Gore should pull a legal rabbit out of the hat in Tallahassee, indignant Republicans will pour out of caves and country clubs all over America, shaking their flintlocks, howling for blood.

Congressman David Bonior and other Democrats warn that if Bush becomes president, there will come a time, months hence, when journalists or academics working under the Freedom of Information Act may count all the Florida votes and find that Gore actually won, thereby precipitating a crisis of legitimacy for Bush. Piffle. Bonior seems to miss the point of all these court challenges, which is to ask: By what standard do you inspect and judge the ballots? It is precisely because subjective or partisan standards are in play that the courts are trying to sort the matter out. How could a journalist or academic ever come to a definitive count, especially considering that the much-manipulated punchcards are aging and shedding chads daily, thus invalidating any number of votes and making the ultimate count impossible?

But who can bear to listen to lawyers droning for so long? The campaign itself went on for two years more than it should have, and the pettifogging afterblather is more than decent citizens should be asked to endure. I have pulled the covers over my head. In the month since the election, I have reread "War and Peace," interminable and still the greatest novel. No one ever described the fog of battle better than Tolstoy. I have lately been comforting myself with the Book of Proverbs, which I carry around in a pocket edition from Grove Press and dip into whenever I have had too much of "Hardball" or "The O'Reilly Factor."

Proverbs shines among the wisdom literature, and, if it is not blasphemous (that is, if it is not "froward," a lovely word, meaning stubbornly contrary, disobedient) to mine the text for base political meaning, has something for everyone.

Consider the brutal pertinence (boomers, anyone?) in Chapter 30:11–12: "There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness."

Democrats may take comfort in 11:25: "The liberal soul shall be made fat."

Is there fear of a coming recession? Reflect on the magically ominous 25:33–4 — "Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: so shall thy poverty come as one that traveleth; and thy want as an armed man."

And dread what traveleth nigh: "Where there is no vision, the people perish."

Sinners, be warned.