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Exposing reality: It’s grow-up time in America

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Kathleen Parker
December 12, 2010
— Thanks to WikiLeaks, even Vlad the Putin can raise an eyebrow and presume to know more about founding American principles, democracy and free speech.

It is convenient to blame poor little Julian Assange, the cyberkind who published the leaks that someone stole. He is now a martyr to the brat brigades who occupy basements and attics, keeping the company of others similarly occupied with virtual life.


Assange is the king brat, but only du jour. He will be displaced soon enough by more ambitious hacks whose delinquent and, worse, sinister inclinations are enabled by technology. Alas, we now are at the mercy of giddy, power-hungry nerds operating beyond the burden of responsibility or accountability.


Do I want to hunt down Assange as we do al-Qaida, as one famous caribou hunter suggested? Uh, no. Assange, who is in custody awaiting extradition on (dubious) rape charges, may be a naughty boy. But he is an irresponsible publisher, a conduit, not the perpetrator of the originating offense. Whatever culpability we may assign to him ultimately will have to be determined in the way that we (but not so much the Russians and those who can see Russia on a clear day) prefer: Due process.


In the meantime, a few observations are worth considering as we ponder the larger picture.


It is human nature to turn on the weak, and we apparently are today’s feast. The world delights in our recoil from the release of classified documents because the big dog has a limp, a weak spine and a soft belly.


Our president, though likable, is perceived as weak no matter how many raids we perform in Afghanistan. South Korea, who at least owes us an in-kind favor, at first declined our kind trade offer. China, Russia and others have criticized our monetary policy.


Meanwhile, the world sees our cacophonous Congress unable to move forward with measures to save our economy, while watching our overfed populace stampeding to buy more junk made with cheap labor in unfriendly countries.


China holds our debt, while we can’t agree on how to stop the hemorrhaging. At the same time, China’s students are kicking our kids’ tushies down the schoolyard. From reading to math, they’re so far ahead we inhale their dust.


That is to say, the world sees weakness.


This is a stunning recognition for most Americans who have grown up amid relative plenty, a sunny national disposition and mantra of good intentions. We’ve always known that we’re the good guys, as even some of our defenders have noted in the wake of WikiLeaks revelations.


Writing for the center-right Le Figaro, French journalist Renaud Girard said: “What is most fascinating is that we see no cynicism in U.S. diplomacy. They really believe in human rights in Africa and China and Russia and Asia. They really believe in democracy and human rights.”


Yes, we really do.


If Americans are guilty of anything, he said, it is being a little naive. Let’s plead guilty as charged and get on with it.


With gratitude, we even find a friend on the Left. Another French journalist, Laurent Joffrin, editor of the leftist Liberation, conceded that we should not necessarily accept a “demand for transparency at any price.”


It would seem that we face several imperatives at this juncture: First, remain calm. Hysteria is not helpful. Second, accept that our world has changed in terms of what can be expected as “private” and behave accordingly. Third, all hands on deck as we work to reconcile our better angels with our fallen selves.


With the exception of our military, we are a flabby lot, and I’m not just talking about girth. We are merely disgusting in that department. I’m talking about our self-discipline, our individual will, our self-respect, our voluntary order.


Note the operative words: self, individual and voluntary.


We don’t need bureaucrats and politicians to dictate how to behave; how to spend (or save); what and how to eat. We need to be the people we were meant to be: strong, resilient, disciplined, entrepreneurial, focused, wise, playful, humorous, humble, thoughtful, and, please, self-deprecating. We have all the tools and opportunities a planet can confer.


It’s still a jungle out there, however, and the weak lose every time. The lack of respect from other countries, the ridicule from thugs and the WikiLeaks celebration are part of the same cloth. We can do what’s necessary—tighten our belts, get tough, grab our shovels. To do less is to surrender to victimhood and the fates that befall those who decline to govern themselves.


Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Her e-mail address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

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