August is not usually known as a great month for news. The President is often on a vacation while Congress has abandoned Washington to return to their districts. Political campaigns are traditionally in hibernation raising money. Families are on holiday and companies generally wait to unveil new products until after Labor Day.
What little news that does occur runs the risk of being beaten to death, rehashed and regurgitated until all that remains is a little drool, spittle that eeks from the lips of pundits and prognosticators, and a second tier of opinion-makers who are not-so-important that they could take vacation lest they might miss their only chance of the year to be quoted.
August news stories have the same foul odor of rotting food left out in the hot sun… stories that stretch on for weeks… when senior executives abandon NYC for the Hampton’s or the Cape leaving more junior news people in charge who embrace, indeed flog same ol’ stories for days and days. It is so much safer to go with a 2nd, 3rd or 15th day lead than chart a new course or find something more compelling when what’s old and loud can be resuscitated for another lead.
Last August coverage focused on the proposed death panels associated with health care reform. Stop – if just for a moment – is it really credible that the United States government would propose death panels for its citizens as a matter of public policy? Does that Mengele-esque concept pass the credulity test?
This August we have the Manhattan mosque. In a year’s time, with reflection, will this be about a proposed building or rather the question was this suggested mosque about actually building it, or merely asking for permission? Was the media, in turn much of the public, played by the question – what if we said, “No”? What if we said there wasn’t the right of freedom of religion or of speech? What if we had said that we do not honor the tenants of the Constitution, or in outright rejection made it globally clear that we were a nation where there was such repression that the US resembled a nation ruled by religious zealots and where freedoms were not respected?
The musical The Fantastics, music by Harvey Schmidt, book and lyrics by Tom Jones, a play itself about hate and bigotry capture the essence of confusion about what was really what… in a song called “Plant a Radish” they wonder about the mystery of raising children to act and do as their parents want. In a more macro version, did we sing this same chorus asking ourselves what we thought, what we wanted, and what we thought was the question, but in fact, we missed it?
In Washington you usually don’t challenge some one’s plan but rather their motives, that is, you seek to find out the why a particular individual supporting a law or idea is gaining credence and destroy him or her instead of attacking the issue directly. Here that old standard seems to have been turned on its head… instead of attacking the motives of those responsible we have attacked the plan itself. The mosque, whether a single room as part of a larger community center, in many ways a Muslim equivalent of a YMCA, is not the issue as much as its proponents wanted to place the question, a challenge, in front of the American people.
Are we truly as good as we would have ourselves believe? Did we get played by the media, many of whom went into swirl mode trying to breathe life into an emotional reaction instead of looking at what may lie beneath the noise?
And just in passing, supposing this mosque is approved and construction money can be obtained… does any one really expect the trade unions to willingly join in the building process? Will steel arrive as planned? Or other building supplies and crafts people? Will the NY Fire Department expeditiously sign off on permits and licenses? In New York, a city renown for its distinct reactions, does any one think this building has a serious expectation of any completion?
This wasn’t about a building, this was about the American process. Welcome to another August; September begins in just two more weeks.