Imagine that millions hang on your words, that they had the power to confer life or death.
Imagine that your reasoning could change national and world policy, in the fact of bitter opposition from those who oppose you, those who will inevitably know more than you in various areas.
Imagine that there is a path of least resistance. The resistance comes from your employer's demands, your social circle, those who can mobilize the most faxes and e-mails attacking your writing.
What would you do? What would you want, if you were an elite political commentator?
Deep down, I think part of what you might want is forgiveness. You'd want to pretend that none of the above are true, that you can't change (and ruin) people's lives, that's politics is all a game, that morality does not enter into it.
I think that you might cling to others who expressed the same beliefs.
I think that you might find solace in nihilism.
Nihilism: the belief that there is no universal truth or underlying reality that undergirds moral values; that ultimately existence is meaningless.
"Nihilism" is normally a word tossed out to describe those who place value on nothing: punks, layabouts, addicts, sociopaths. But that is not where it does the most damage. That is not who drives our discourse.
Nihilism is most dangerous when it emanates from those who profess piety. Chris Matthews attacks Bill Clinton for lying under oath, and then tells us that life is just a campaign, a matter of turning people to our side, whatever it may be. Values don't matter; they're embarrassing, in fact, and get you into trouble.
Maureen Dowd looks not for the morality of candidates' actions, but for how they will play with the public, whether they leave one liable to ridicule, and amplifies the ridicule-making process to prove her point.
Joe Klein issues pronouncements ex cathedra as to what is right and wrong, what is smart and dumb, and never faces real consequences for being wrong. He can't bring himself to admit his errors, and swats away passionate thinkers like Glenn Greenwald for not leaving him alone.
I differ from many people here in not thinking that Matthews, Dowd, and Klein -- all apparently Democrats by upbringing -- are bad people. I think that they're damaged. I think that each would have been much happier with half as much success, a third as much influence.
I think that, deep down, they must be terrified of their own power to destroy. I think it leads them to trivialize, to backpedal, to pretend that their jobs do not involve hewing to morality and ethics, except as a pose.
I think that their pretending to be nihilists must give them great solace, most of the time, but that it must eat away at them at others.
Prominent people often convert to more liberal thinking towards the end of their lives. It's true of any number of military leaders. Lee Atwater wanted forgiveness, Barry Goldwater rejected his roots. Why?
I think it is because towards the end of one's life there may be less lost by being ethical about the world, and there is no more need for nihilism. That must bring a better solace than fame.
Diary not associated with any candidate or campaign.