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A Farewell to Blather

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There is a passage in Hemingway's novel A Farewell to Arms in which the protagonist — an American ambulance driver serving on the Italian front — goes AWOL and observes of the ongoing carnage that was World War I that he didn't "go to it anymore." That's sort of how we felt about the visit Monday to DeSoto County by Dick Cheney. Cheney was in Mississippi to promote the 1st District candidacy of Southaven mayor Greg Davis, the Republican nominee in an election to replace Roger Wicker.

And we didn't go to check out Cheney. Not because we don't have readers in northern Mississippi. We do. We hear from them and revere them. But we could have recited in our sleep Cheney's mindless and meaningless salvoes on Davis' behalf: "Americans need to keep more of their own money ... stand up for the unborn ... priority of the United States is to protect and defend ... ." Etc., etc. All well and good, except that these bromides are unrelated to any goal pursued by an administration that in nearly eight years of flagrant waste and dangerous misjudgment has squandered American blood and treasure and human potential needlessly.

But that's not the main reason why we didn't go to hear Cheney. We're really just disgusted with the way that war ... er, that congressional race has been run. The last straw was the barrage of recent ads attacking Davis' Democratic opponent, Travis Childers, as the exponent of some wholly imaginary "Obama-Childers" tax plan. Not that Childers was any paragon of forthrightness in his mealymouthed insistence on the obvious — that he and Barack Obama had never met, much less plotted tax agendas together.

There are good, bad, and indifferent Republicans. There are good, bad, and indifferent Democrats. And there are real issues in Mississippi, as in Tennessee — most of them local, economic in nature, and urgent. Dwindling incomes, the worsening housing crisis, the drastic decline in local and state government revenues, the erosion of social services at a time when they are needed most. To which emergencies, politicians like Cheney and the political-ad warriors to the south of us have offered little more than the proverbial sound and fury that signifies nothing. We choose not to go there.

Maybe Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen is on the right track and maybe he isn't, with the budget-slashing economies he announced to a joint session of the Tennessee General Assembly on Monday. But Bredesen at least was focusing our attention on real issues and attempting a serious makeover of governmental priorities. Would that our local governments would do as much, instead of consuming an entire afternoon, as the Shelby County Commission did on the selfsame Monday, in arguing over, and then discarding, a score of formulas for determining the number of years that elected county officials should be permitted to serve.

There were good, bad, and indifferent proposals and good, bad, and indifferent justifications for them, but they all came to naught — as well they might, considering that the real urgencies threatening local government and an apprehensive local population were ignored in the process. This shadow-boxing can't go on forever.

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