Helen of Troy was the Greek woman whose allure, it was said, "launched a thousand ships." Arianna Huffington is the Greek woman whose invitation, we know, launched a hundred buses.
Even though she's backing Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity," and even though I now work for her, I had dismissed the event this Saturday on the Mall as self-indulgent, time-wasting comedy.
The reason is that I watched two videos: one, of a thug named Tim Profitt pressing his shoe onto Lauren Valle's skull; the other, of Joy Behar calling Sharron Angle a bitch who's going to hell.
That was enough. I now think the rally is a fateful moment in this political campaign, an indispensable plea for a smidgeon of decency in a season of crazy, vicious assaults from both sides of the aisle.
For support I call in famous Irishmen, one of them 18th century conservative icon Edmund Burke, the other 20th century poet W.B. Yeats.
Burke said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Yeats wrote in his poem "The Second Coming" that, "the center cannot hold" in an era when "the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."
Less than two years after Barack Obama's inauguration offered the country a moment of what I thought was peace, we are at each other's throats with an intensity not seen in decades.
I'm all in favor of arguing. I wrote a book (The Thirteen American Arguments) about how debates are the essence of our being.
But for them to work we need to acknowledge, however grudgingly, that the people we are arguing with are human beings.
For a host of reasons -- some valid, some cynical -- we are in a season in which we refuse to accept the humanity of the people we oppose.
Why? Well, the political parties and their leaders want to hold onto or acquire power. Corporations and unions want to hold onto their economic prerogatives. Ideologues want their views confirmed. Consultants want to make money. The media wants headlines.
Where is the rational discussion of the country's future? Where is the earnestness, the specificity or the disinterested (though not UNinterested) patriotism in the name of all of America?
Probably not at Jon Stewart's rally. But at least he's headed in the right direction.