Saturday, August 7, 2010

Where Are The Heroes?

Strangely, I'm having the same kind of debate with both my political friends and my NASCAR friends, as it pertains to those two subjects. Each discussion revolves around the past versus the present and how, basically, both Washington and NASCAR have gone to hell in a handbasket.

For instance, one of the political types sent around a question entitled, "How is Obama like Lincoln?" Here are just a few of the answers:

1) Lincoln was hit in the head from behind; Obama has his head up his behind.

2) Lincoln was shot in Ford's Theater; Obama shot up in the back of a Lincoln made by Ford.

3) Lincoln was born in KENtucky; Obama was born in KENya with both of them eventually moving to Illinois.

There were more but those three give you the flavor. I don't know about you but the comic genius who came up with these had me rolling on the floor laughing my ass off, as we say in Cyberville. (Sarcasm alert here for those who may be tone deaf to written nuance).

It's not just Barack Obama so many Americans find beneath contempt these days; it's all of our elected representatives. Compared to the statesmen of yesteryear, they are a motley crew of corrupt buffoons.

NASCAR feels the same way about its current crop of drivers. They can't hold a candle to those tough old rednecks that were there at the start of stock car racing. Compared to those wheelmen of yesteryear, they are a collection of simps and wimps.

I wonder if it simply human nature to revere the past and diminish the present? I also wonder if the modern media doesn't have a lot to do with it. And if we, ourselves, don't play right into those attitudes.

Here's a for instance. My family had a friend who was one of John F Kennedy's secret service detail. Until the day he died, he denied the allegations about Kennedy's womanizing despite all evidence to the contrary. I don't know how he personally felt about JFK but I do know he considered it his duty and his honor to uphold is oath to protect the president in all ways, his reputation as well as his physical body, and he believed that oath extended even past the president's lifetime.

That was the pre-Baby Boomer definition of loyalty. Were we better off then, when we were still allowed to respect our presidents?

By contrast, Bill Clinton's various security personnel, both state troopers and Secret Service, couldn't wait to testify against him. Some of his cabinet penned their poison memoirs before the ink was dry on their letters of resignation.

Were the reporters of his era aware of Kennedy's sexual proclivities? Without a doubt. Did they feel the need to root around in his personal life and print all the gory details? Evidently not. But the Clinton media, ah, they positively salivated at the thought of informing us about all the titillating specifics and we salivated ourselves about blow jobs and cigars.

If you took a cross-section of Washington from how ever far back you want to go and could somehow know everything about them and not just the authorized biography stuff, would they truly stack up as stronger and wiser and more virtuous than a similar group from today?

My answer is no. People are people. Most of us are a mixed bag of positives and negatives. Even George Washington had his weaknesses. Even Abraham Lincoln made mistakes. If you could dig deeply enough into their personalities, you'd find some cruelties and kindnesses, some great visions mixed with a few blind spots. You'd find addictions and heartaches caused, selfishness mixed with generosity. You'd find some moral certainties and some agonizing doubts.

I think you'd mostly find men who believed they knew what was best for the country (and that very quality says something about a towering ego right there) who tried their very best to put their ideas into practice. I think you'd mostly find men who deserved the benefit of the doubt rather than crappy little jokes like the ones quoted above, whether you agree with their political philosophies or not.

And it's not much different in NASCAR. To old school NASCAR fans, the Richard Pettys and Cale Yarboroughs and Junior Johnsons and Dale Earnhardts, et al, were little short of being gods. Larger than life characters, secure on their pedestals into perpetuity.

No driver today can possibly measure up no matter how much they accomplish. Jimmie Johnson with 4 straight championships, something no other driver has ever achieved? Put asterisks beside his his years. Those championships didn't come as hard as those of the old timers. He didn't have to be as good or as brave or as smart as they did.

I think all this says more about us than it does either politicians or stock car racers. Why is it that we get more joy from bashing than believing? Why is it that we prefer to withhold respect and refuse honor? If we can't find any heroes in our world, it's because we hold them to an impossible standard, not because they aren't available to us.