09/07/2007 05:29 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Outrage Fatigue

I haven't blogged much lately. It's not that the Bush Regime hasn't provided yet another round of jaw dropping illegalities and mind numbing inanities warranting vigilant scrutiny, swift condemnation and trenchant critique. We're watching, for instance, the slo-mo extension of this stupid war, and a decorated general is about to go down in history as a public patsy to that endless end. Makes you want to cringe in both embarrassment and sorrow. You would think that Petraeus would have a sense of honor, or duty, or an inkling of shame that might well up in him and prevent him, at the last moment, from spinning us into springtime. Surely he knows (deep down?) that he doesn't have a credible plan for much of anything in Iraq, so his "report" serves the purpose only of suckering the American public yet again--and young men and women will die as a result of his polished presentation. Doesn't he realize that the bloodied demons and eternal furies of repressed conscience will eventually keep him from sleeping at night? They do catch up. They scream out, after dark, into your soul.

Anyway, there's been plenty to blog about. It's just that, lately, brooding despair has seemed to me to be the more appropriate emotional response than prickly indignation. One throws up one's hands, and sighs. I know better, but I can't help it.

Frankly, I'm mightily worried about the health of American democracy, that is, our 220-year old experiment in constitutional republicanism. I fear for our future--and not because of a terrorist triumph.

How far we have fallen from the Founders' vision. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Melancton Smith and other constitutional framers thought that the American political system they devised would naturally attract into office those leaders who were "natural aristocrats," namely, the best and brightest among us. Today the term sounds elitist and anti-democratic, but they didn't see it quite that way. Natural aristocrats were to be distinguished from Old World aristocrats, those bluebloods who claimed privileges on the basis of birthright and family wealth. Natural aristocrats, in contrast, were those individuals who distinguished themselves by dint of hard work, education, and enterprise. We might call them meritocrats, persons who earn their successes, as opposed to inheriting them.

Jefferson and Smith were confident that a democratic electorate, with sufficiently diffused education, would naturally vote into office such "superior" representatives, because talent, intelligence, virtue, and industry would surely win out over the "artificial" advantages of wealth and birth. Respect for "science, talent, and courage" is on the upswing, wrote Jefferson, whereas wealth, rank, and birth have "fallen into contempt." Our constitutional democratic representative republic would become the envy of the world if we, thought Jefferson, can attract and elect such well qualified leaders into office: "May we not even say that that form of government is the best which provides the most effectually for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the offices of government?"

Woe to us now. Is it just I, or have we indeed been electing into federal office, in the last decade or so, an unusually high number of goons, dimwits, thugs, flim-flam men, con artists, panderers, philanderers, perverts, prevaricators, prostitutes, bozos, B-actors, crazies, wackos, racists, scoundrels, criminals, and outright traitors? The Duke Cunninghams, Tom DeLays, and Larry Craigs don't seem to be simply the isolated exceptions and bad apples--they're just the ones who got caught. How is it that Dick Cheney can out a C.I.A. agent and not be run out of town as a traitor to this country? How is it that nutso Mike Huckabee can refer to staying indefinitely in Iraq as a matter of "honor?" How is it that a delusional frat boy with a fake Texas accent can dictate the terms of war for five years running? Why, in the Lord's name, won't the too-clever-by-half Democrats stand up to the hideous and senseless war mongering? Has the entire system of governance become corrupted beyond repair?

I find myself hoping that a professional comedian gets elected in Minnesota in order to provide some modicum of truth-telling and honest leadership in the highest public offices in the land. The Founders, however, probably wouldn't find that situation very funny.