Someone must have challenged Frank Bruni to write the most dunderheaded assessment of America's decline that he could think of. Bruni met that challenge brilliantly. Here, from "America the Shrunken," is a taste:
American bridges crumble. American trains crawl. American flights leave from terminals that pale next to many Asian and European counterparts.... We seldom build big things anymore. We just talk about building them and usually decide to take a pass or to wait.
We, the collective we, we're all "laggards, slackers, and everywhere you turn, the evidence mounts," broods the NYT columnist. Inexplicably, those who are actually leaving our bridges in lethal disrepair are never identified by Bruni; he just broods away. Until ...
[M]y colleague Maureen Dowd marveled at the "reduced expectations" and "truculent passivity" of Barack Obama’s presidency, which may be a crystalline mirror of the nation itself, aptly humbled and eerily fatalistic.
It was then, right then upon reading that passage, that I understood the challenge thrown down before Bruni. Was it possible, was it even conceivable, to write an entire NYT column that grieved America's decline--specifically, its decaying infrastructure--without once mentioning its principal origin; to wit, contemporary conservatism's fanatical nihilism? But not only that, could his column earn bonus points for misidentifying the actual culprit--i.e., Obama's "eerily fatalistic" presidency?
You bet your ass it could. Bruni was in rare form, able to meet his challenge brilliantly.
I too have been dismayed at President Obama's "passivity" since reelection. Every so often he launches a verbal broadside against Republican nihilists, but those broadsides are fitful. There's no consistency, no relentlessness, no seeming strategy in it. He slams and then disappears, sometimes for weeks. I once regularly complained about the absence of a sustained offense, but now I'm resigned to it. The White House has me whipped. But that's political passivity--not policy. For heaven's sake if Obama had even a part-time partner in congressional Republicans he would be repairing bridges and building slick modern airports and doing all the other things Frank Bruni broods about. Yet somehow the columnist vaguely blames Obama for inaction? On policy?
The challenge of substantiating such nonsense with anything resembling reality was, alas, too much for Bruni. So the passivity charge he just sort of lays out there. Nonetheless, for its stunning intellectual laziness and rather arresting fatuity, his column earns exceptional merit.