Jewish World Review Dec. 20, 2002/ 15 Teves, 5763

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
MUGGER
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports


Mundane superlatives cause trouble


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Mundane superlatives squash superiority. Egalitarian self-esteemers spot little difference between Vin Diesel and Albert Einstein, except perhaps for the hair, or Albert Schweitzer and Robert Redford, except, again, perhaps for the hair. Trent Lott's effusive praise of retiring Senator Strom Thurmond made it seem as if the country lost its collective mind when it placed that ne'er-do-well Truman in the White House instead of this centenarian segregationist.

What is so all-fired difficult about speaking ill of the dead or alive when the dead or alive have no merit? Why this contrived genuflection that makes everyone a superstar? Lake Wobegon is passť. Above average is not good enough. In a world of saintly Tiny Tims and Melanie Hamiltons, we could use a few more Scrooges and Scarlett O'Haras for balance. The cynical skeptic is an endangered species.

Stupid folks do exist. Mean folk abound. Lazy folks are around, often in heaps with lushes. Yet, if we believe those who hurl superlatives, salvation is superfluous. Not everyone is praiseworthy. Contorting to find that praise got Lott into trouble.

I once read a story about a man being asked to give the eulogy for an acquaintance he described as an awful human being. He was asked to give the eulogy for this troll; despite being just a bystander in the thankfully departed's life, because neither friend nor family members would agree to eulogize the wretch. When the eulogist-by-default stood to speak at the funeral, he preserved his integrity and the truth about the deceased ogre by beginning his remarks to the all-too-knowing audience with, "You know, his brother was much worse."

The best that can be said about Strom Thurmond is that he turned 100 while in the Senate. When asked to honor such a man at his farewell, and farewells themselves are overused superlatives - who in the Senate isn't glad to see Thurmond go?, Lott had two choices. The first was to just say,"No!" to tributes to extremist coots.

The second was for Lott to ramble on, as all good politicians are trained to do, about public service and surviving 100 steamy Mississippi summers. Lott could have spoken benignly of Biloxi's growing charm. Instead, Lott fell into the societal trap of superlatives and waxed bizarrely about lost days and opportunities of segregation. The Republicans trounced the Democrats on the November election battlefield only to lose the war with a jolly good fellow speech for a racist with a great many birthday candles.

The superlatives trap not only causes trouble; it reduces the merit of the superior. Too many summa cum laudes means the laudes are no different from the drinking fraternity boys who had difficulty making it to class but will, one day, probably be elected to the U.S. Senate and then eulogized by frat brothers for social skills (translate: party animal) and leadership (translate: got the kegs to the parties on time). For many in the Senate, these would be the makings of a good colleague. Those skills got at least one Southern governor to the White House.

Superlatives elevate the mediocre beyond their stations. Robert Redford is a looker who chose films with good writing, but he's not Oscar material, and did not warrant last year's Oscar achievement award. Babs Streisand's superlative-laced introduction of her once-leading man made me think Gandhi would rise from the dead to collect the statue and then party at Spago. Redford's rambling acceptance speech had all the eloquence of what he is: a ski bum from Utah whose looks got him parts.

Princess Diana was a jetsetter who outwitted a sycophantic media into following her around among land mines and AIDS victims so as to create an image that saw her death trump Mother Teresa's in coverage and eulogies. Diana's brother's eulogy would have us believe that we were burying Joan of Arc instead of a clotheshorse mother of two who, with her paramour, was racing around the streets of Paris in the wee hours of the morning sans seat belt and wedding band.

John Kennedy, Jr.'s death saw weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. Because it meant the none-too-soon demise of George and the Cindy Crawford covers?

Oprah hasn't changed the world - she's a talk show host who has lost weight, a few times. Dr. Phil is an amiable Texan, but he's not the answer to life's problems. My Big Fat Greek Wedding is funny, but it's not the best movie ever made. Can we comment without raves? Can we evaluate without blinders?

In a world of superlatives, the trivial becomes the critical. Wealth and fame are substitutes for merit. Death and old age bring undeserved adulation. Mr. Lott, victim of a superlatives-on-demand world, praised a man who opposed equal rights. Mr. Lott may fear that history will not be kind to him. Perhaps not, but his eulogist will. Should I be given the honor, I shall begin as follows, "You know, Strom Thurmond was much worse."

Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.


JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.

Up

12/09/02: Let the sacking begin
12/05/02: Amazing Grace that saved me from my CO2 emissions
11/27/02: Free speech, Harvard, and First Amendment looneys
11/25/02: Eminem culture
11/14/02: Hollywood trash
11/04/02: Patron Kennedy Saints
10/28/02: What the snipers and Moose taught
10/22/02: Nobel Prizes and other ventriloquist acts
10/17/02: The window on the liberal mind and war
10/14/02: Leaders don't change; followers do
10/07/02: Do it yourself
09/27/02: Hosers rise again
09/20/02: Girly gridiron
09/13/02: Erudite buffoons
09/11/02: One year later, crass demands, greed, and litigation are back --- but rights are diminished
09/06/02: Public schools: An unqualified success
08/30/02: The Shakespearean tragedy of affirmative action
08/23/02: Hollywood Joe's admission
08/15/02: Cheapskates
08/08/02: Ode to a coal miner
08/02/02: Sarah Brady's gun gift
07/26/02: Don't do it, Tiger
07/18/02: Reality Muppets
07/09/02: We're all going to die, live with it
07/02/02: From the eye of the storm
06/27/02: Nick not right
06/20/02: Behind the music
06/14/02: The sum of all fears in vouchers
06/06/02: Where was Agent Rowley when the FBI needed her?
05/30/02: Of big hair and sanity
05/24/02: Should I embrace liberalism?
05/20/02: Some passion about Israel
05/09/02: A mother who cares enough
05/02/02: Go ahead, pass judgment
04/29/02: The irritation of the modern wedding
04/18/02: Claire's life
04/15/02: Harvard takes off its pants one leg at a time
04/09/02: The Clinton legacy: Politics of personal destruction
03/31/02: Oscars' subtle bigotry was embarrassing
03/22/02: Blame Oprah, Rosie, Sally, Ted, David
03/14/02: The costs of women's feeble choices
03/08/02: Botoxic faces
02/28/02: The dangers of organized philanthropy
02/25/02: Don't take the gold
02/14/02: Ease up on the brothers and sisters
02/11/02: Because I was courted
02/05/02: Fat fault
01/24/02: Tolerance does not mean stupidity
01/17/02: Too old too soon
01/10/02: Ethically challenged firms
01/03/02: The year that was
12/27/01: The Twelve Days of inconsistency
12/20/01: Free Speech and the political spectrum
12/13/01: Curbing brats
12/06/01: Power to influence
11/29/01: The disappearing art of grading
11/21/01: The Big Two-Five
11/13/01: You can never find a lib when you need one
11/01/01: Unlucky in sports
10/26/01: An epidemic of counselitis
10/16/01: A touch of class
10/12/01: Of human nature and monsters
10/05/01: Sensitive man
10/01/01: Post-September 11 security
09/20/01: No tinhorn terrorists can frighten us
09/06/01: If there is no honor in youth sports, it is because of the adults
08/27/01: The draw of Condit
08/23/01: Lowering expectations and flying high
08/17/01: Thoreau, Walden and stems cells
08/13/01: Our masters: The animals
08/02/01: FRAN, MARY JO, MONICA & CHANDRA
07/30/01: When principle hits too close to home
07/13/01: Rage born of sublimation
07/06/01: Patient's rights and the Valley of Death
06/29/01: There is no excuse
06/21/01: I want an eternal soulmate, but the marriage thing is another issue
06/14/01: Which way maverick McCain? An Arizonan's perspective
06/07/01: No stroke of genius
05/30/01: The lesson of the Mr. Green Jeans senator: 'Moderate' is a classy term for wishy-washy
05/25/01: Baseball has not been so good to me
05/18/01: Clothes make the woman
05/11/01: Selective precaution
05/04/01: Grades: Equality of students, by students, for the students
04/27/01: The Horowitz revelations as seen by a college professor
04/20/01: First, let's kill all the tests
04/13/01: The continuing mistake of underpricing electricity
04/06/01: That pill, Julia Roberts
03/29/01: If it weren't for the parents, we might accomplish something
03/23/01: The melt down of the academy
03/15/01: Columbine redux: Moral infants
03/09/01: The lessons of Tom and Nicole
03/01/01: Pardon the temporary outrage
02/23/01: In defense of homework
02/20/01: A Message for faith-based organizations: Don't take the money, just run
02/06/01: Enough already with the Clintoons
01/26/01: The challenge to be better than we have been
01/19/01: Where have you gone Frieda Pushnik?
12/29/00: The year that was
12/23/00: Litigation: It's the American way
12/15/00: In defense of rhetoric
12/06/00: The company we keep: Lawyers and elections
12/01/00: Liberals' art of trashing of women
11/20/00: Put me out of my misery
11/17/00: On being a statesman
11/13/00: When it's broke, fixing it wouldn't offend the Framers
11/08/00: ELECTION 2000: I SURRENDER
10/27/00: Al in the package? Memo to women: Choosing presidents and husbands
10/20/00: Ten things the gay community should understand
10/13/00: "You Have a Lump."
10/06/00: The government as the pharmacy: Don't
09/29/00: The capacity for truth
09/22/00: Charity with strings and an agenda
09/15/00: The taming of the shrew: Gloria Steinem takes a husband
09/09/00: Why rich folk don't bother me none
08/28/00: Survival of the not-so-fit but conniving
08/25/00: Conventions: A study in contrasts
08/18/00: Resenting the accusations of racial prejudice
08/04/00: Women: Their own worst enemy
07/21/00: Hillary: Our longshoreman First Lady
07/21/00: SUVs: The root of all evil
07/14/00: The basketball gene and white men not jumping so well
07/07/00: I wanna be around
06/23/00: The liberal conversion
06/14/00: Sex and the City: The shallow but vulgar female
06/08/00: No excuses schools
06/02/00: Oh, Canada: Our Nutty Neighbors to the North
05/23/00: The new mollycoddling coach
05/16/00: On adultery and leadership
05/12/00: Taking your lumps
05/02/00: Elian: There's never a liberal around when you need one
04/25/00: Life's circle and tenderness
04/18/00: Womyn who want it both ways
04/11/00: The monsters we're raising with the ergo proposition
04/05/00: Endowing the Hooters Chair for Literature Appreciation
03/28/00: Dr. Laura: The passive/aggressive kid's mom
03/21/00: Dough and campaigns
03/14/00: The volunteerism of conscription and pomp
03/07/00: Hope and pray that religion remains a force in politics
02/29/00: Ditzes in TV Land
02/22/00: Cranky nitpickers make writing a [sic] experience
02/15/00: Those chameleon 60s activists
02/08/00: McCandidate McCain: Flirting with principles
02/01/00: The demise of marriage
01/25/00: Stroke of the pen, law of the land: Clinton's Camelot
01/18/00: Off the Rocker Rorschach Test
01/11/00: Oprah's lemmings
01/04/00: Struggling mightily amidst the comfort
12/23/99: Confused fathers
12/14/99: Drop-kicking the homeless
12/07/99: Turtles and teamsters, side-by-side in Seattle
11/29/99: When conservatives behave badly
11/22/99: Compassionate conservative: Timing and targets
11/18/99: The elusive human spirit and accountability
11/11/99: Succumbing to the intellectual child within with the help of crackpots and screwballs
10/28/99: Live by litigation, die by litigation
10/22/99: Jesse, Warren, Cybill, Donald and Oprah
10/14/99: Inequality and injustice: It's the big one
10/05/99: Dan Quayle, morals and schoolyard bullies
09/30/99: The monsters of epidermal parenting
09/21/99: The Diversity Hoax
09/15/99: Waco Wackos
09/09/99: Selective censorship
09/01/99: The village, the children, judicial imperialism and abortion
08/24/99: Naughty Newt?
08/17/99: In defense of Boy Scouts and judgment
08/10/99: Ruining the finest health care system in the world
08/03/99: Nihilism and politics: ethics on the lam
07/26/99: Of women, soccer and removed jerseys
07/23/99: Not in despair, a mere mortal doing just fine
07/20/99: "Why me?" How about "Why us?"
07/13/99: Bunk, junk & juries
07/06/99: An Amish woman in a Victoria's Secret store
06/30/99: That intellectually embarrassing Second Amendment
06/24/99: Patricia Ireland eat your heart out --- but check out the recipe in 'women's mags' first
06/22/99: Dems and the Creator coup
06/17/99: True courage is more than just admitting troubles

© 2002, Marianne M. Jennings