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Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011 10:14 am

Wise guys

In which a mere opinion-monger sets out on the path toward Truth

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Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul: Creation lasted six days.

Life is full of mysteries. Why would a beneficent god allow humans to invent ceramic cooktops? Why didn’t the Pyschedelic Furs sell more records? The public’s confusion is rich soil for the opinion-monger, which is why I have been able to make a living for 35 years telling other people what they ought to think.

I began providing a grateful Springfield with all the answers in 1976. There were only a few of us opinion-mongers in town then. The recently merged State Journal-Register had a political columnist and a society columnist, even though politics and society doings in those days were pretty much the same thing. The paper’s editorials presumed to instruct the public on a broader range of public issues, but apart from the sort of pieces arguing that snow at Christmas was a good idea, the point of view was pro-business, pro-GOP boilerplate. Someone must have read them; as to why they read them, even I did not venture an explanation.

My role at this paper was to provide what could be called short-order punditry from 1976 until 1994 – time enough, it turned out, for the world to change. The advent of the World Wide Web has meant that opinion-mongering once done by a few artisans such as myself has become a do-it-yourself industry. Any damn fool can publish opinions, and quite a few have. Bloggers have done to the columnist what Mexican factory farms have done to the fresh tomato, and the effect on the market for my line of goods was catastrophic.

I got out of the opinion business for a while. When I returned to this space in 2009, I ditched my stock of opinions and undertook to peddle wisdom instead. I did so knowing that my audience would be smaller. Public leaders are not interested in wisdom, for example, but will back any sort of nonsense if their public wants it. And most members of that public want their lack of wisdom to be confirmed, not corrected. While smaller, my new audience of seekers needs me more, comprising as it does aldermen, school administrators and at least one governor.

Then, just as I was getting good at the guru thing, a new and unexpected band of commentators have raised the bar even higher. I speak of the Michele Bachmanns, the Ron Pauls, the Sarah Palins, the Rick Perrys and others from the fruitful orchard from which the Republican Party harvests so many of its nuts. They have shunned as irrelevant the party’s hard-earned wisdom accumulated during decades of shared rule with the Democrats. They insist instead on Truth as the appropriate standard of policies.

Talk about upping the game. I let no secret out of the bag by revealing that all of us professional sages have a book or two that we dip into when we need a quick bit of wisdom on a deadline. For Paul Krugman that book is a no-doubt-heavily-annotated copy of The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. George Will apparently goes back to Parson Weems. Mine is Bartlett’s Quotations.

Good enough for getting wisdom, but for Truth one apparently must turn to a different book. In the Christian Bible, we are told, are the answers to everything – why black people are poor, why females are inferior, why climate change is not to be feared, why Barack Obama – the closest thing to a moderate Republican I’ve seen in the White House since Dwight Eisenhower – is the Antichrist. History, geology, economics – the book explains it all. Earthquakes and floods on the East Coast? According to Bachmann, God is peeved about federal spending. The age of the Earth? No one really knows, says Perry. Evolution? Nonsense, says Ron Paul; the beasts were created in six days. The Civil War? Lincoln got it wrong; slavery was good for Africans because it brought them to Christ.

I envy them all. If you want to make a living selling Truth, having a literal belief in the Bible is like having a communications degree when you want to make a living selling lies. Having read the Bible backward and forward, however, I find that I cannot come to the same certain conclusions that today’s religious right have come to from the same rather ambiguous texts. (I suspect that Bachmann in particular reads it upside down.) I wait in vain for God to explain it to me; I even keep the sound down on the TV while I’m watching “Last of the Summer Wine,” in case He tries to get in touch.

In the meantime I’ve been making do with Glenn Beck on radio as my tutor. But I don’t feel much wiser – except about what’s on TV when Beck’s show is. You’ll get a column about what I’ve learned any day now.  

Contact James Krohe Jr. at KroJnr@gmail.com.

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