Build the Walls Higher

There is a time and a place for coming together and a time and a place for separation and distinguishing. We American generally applaud the separation of Church and State for example even though we collectively turn our thoughts heavenward on Thanksgiving Day. This weekend, the walls in our culture became the subject of attention some bemused, some ridiculous and some sublime.

The annual White House Correspondent’s Dinner breaks several walls that are worth preserving. Bad enough to see the press corps getting cozy with the President and his aides: A healthy antagonism between the first and fourth estate suits our democracy better than schmoozing at a Vanity Fair party. On top of this, the event has been subject to a process known as Hollywoodization. Stars of the stage and screen are invited to bring glamour and attention to the event, and they mix with Washington’s versions of stars, people with power and influence. So, a photo of Eve Longoria Parker, from "Desperate Housewives," arm-in-arm with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel graces this morning’s paper and I have to think: what good can come from this? I could see the value of having Irish actor Jonathon Rhys Meyers in attendance, provided he came dressed in character as Henry VIII to remind everyone that capriciousness in government is not a new thing. But, he didn’t. Let’s keep the press more separate from the politicos, and the Left Coast more separate from the East. Politicians should not walk down red carpets and actors, when not on stage, should be seen and not heard.

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On Sunday, George Will lamented the prospect of continued government interference in the economy. He quotes writer Arthur Bremmer’s warning that "deeper state intervention in an economy means that bureaucratic waste, inefficiency and corruption are more likely to hold back growth." That’s funny. It sure seems that the most recent vintage of unbridled capitalism, with its focus on exotic financial instruments, achieved enormous waste, albeit not of the bureaucratic variety: On their world, waste was called a bonus. And while government corruption is always a worry, the corruption of the financial markets is just as worrisome, not least because it is harder to offset its effects with rigorous enforcement of laws and regulations favoring transparency. Nor is it obvious to me why a government bureaucracy is more inherently inefficient than a corporate one: There are plenty of badly run businesses. Will’s article is worth a read especially because of his tortured reading of de Tocqueville. The words Will quotes could as easily be applied to Wall Street as to the White House.

There was a sublime breach of the wall separating church and state. At the University of Maryland, yesterday, the music school performed Faure’s "Requiem." It is a work I have long loved, especially because it embraces death with quiet confidence, the way St. Francis spoke of "Sister Death," and eschews the terrible, fearsome "Dies Ire" passages from the Verdi or Mozart requiems. The whole work is ethereal, it brings one to a contemplation of the end things that is inescapably religious. Find me the atheist who listens to this music and who still doubts he has a soul, and I will find you a man who is already dead.

 

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