As I said yesterday I admire VDH because he is the best of what a professor should be. He is not merely articulate and thoughtful he is looking to historical patterns and trying to see the much larger picture behind daily events. This piece is a particularly fine example of the long view. He is looking at questions passed over in the mad rush that has become daily life with its attendant onrushing news cycle that so frequently means important events are barely noted.
“Ah — Those Damn Records Again
There were lots of incomplete stories on the domestic front. From time to time, the media caricatured Rick Perry’s Texas A&M’s aggie Cs as proof that he was “dumb.” Recently Chris Matthews (but, of course) derided Mitt Romney’s privilege by comparison to Barack Obama, “who busted hump” to get into prestigious schools and Harvard Law. (“Busted hump” is now to follow “tingle” from out of Matthews’ creepy Freudian recesses?) Remember in 2008 that John McCain’s lackluster US Naval Academy transcript was supposed to offer proof that he was always an unserious and irascible sort. But the media never finish this silly go-all-the-way-back-to-college narrative by producing Obama’s straight As — to remind us how brilliant academic achievement has now continued with inspired White House leadership. ”
The quote is simply part of a theme: the media is unserious at best and partisan at worst. When I worked in the news media it was still true that a story was a story no matter where it led. Now entire entire areas of inquiry are off limits and asking the question makes you a crank or worse.
But there was another whole avenue of analysis in the piece that struck me and here is a remarkable quote:
“Is there such a thing as national character or habit — both having nothing to do with race — in our postmodern age? In the 21st century, can we still say that Germans go to bed when Athenians go to dinner, or that they more likely consider tax cheating theft rather than ingenuity, or that they make things to work well rather than just make things to sell? Is it that when you go into a German bank you are served, and when you go into a Greek counterpart you witness an unending coffee break? Do tiny habits like your bus driver going down the aisle to collect trash versus throwing it out the window add up? When I see two Greek drivers scream and gesticulate at each other in Omonia Square over a tiny fender bender — as four lanes are shut down for their fifteen minutes of machismo — and, in contrast, watch two German drivers on Neuhauser straße in Munich exchange information, shake hands, and help push their dented cars off the road, does all that 1000 times a day also make a difference? ”
He began by noting the paradox that Germany had been desolated thrice in the 2oth century after two world wars and the absorption of the Communist failure that was East Germany. Now, Germany is poised to try and save Europe from its own folly. When I was young there was no question that countries had distinct characters. It was probably overdone but it was, I think, superior to the multicultural madness we have today where everything is good and everything is equal and there is no best because that hurts the feeling of the number two and down…..