The Common Good
January-February 2003

In the Shadow of Self-Delusion

by Ed Spivey Jr. | January-February 2003

As our nation prepares for war against—depending on the mood of the president—al Qaeda, Iraq, or unnecessarily big words (such as "civil liberties"), it is a sober time in America.

As our nation prepares for war against—depending on the mood of the president—al Qaeda, Iraq, or unnecessarily big words (such as "civil liberties"), it is a sober time in America, and that's a good thing. Serious times make for serious people, and in our nation's capital that means no longer "business as usual." For example, the halls of Congress used to be filled with pushy lobbyists passing out large amounts of cash and pressing their narrow agendas. But now when they do that, they wear those little American flag lapel pins. What a difference!

Yes, it's a new day in America, a time to recommit ourselves to the common good, a time to make the sacrifices called for in a time of war, and, above all, a time to move our cash into offshore accounts.

Of course, I'm not talking about regular people like you, because you don't have any cash. Nope, you foolishly put your savings into "fly-by-night" companies whose very names should have raised suspicions. Companies such as AT&T (Come on, spell it out! What are they trying to hide!), AOL-Time Warner (so, like, which is it?), and Johnson & Johnson (what, Smith & Smith wasn't available?) were among many companies whose stock prices are now lower than Jerry Springer's threshold of decency.

But we can't worry about our personal concerns now because, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has emphasized, our nation is under the "shadow of war," and that changes everything. (Actually, "shadow of war" was the administration's second choice after "shadow of gargantuan self-delusion" was rejected because staffers felt it might undermine the president's ability to interrupt a meeting on, say, corporate malfeasance and suddenly blurt out, "Ooh, I know! Let's have a war!")

As WE PREPARE for the inevitable confrontation with Iraq—or possibly North Korea—what we need are some inspiring words from someone who has recently overcome adversity and emerged victorious, with only a short prison sentence. Such as recently convicted former U.S. Rep. Jim "The Rug" Traficant, who spoke to the hearts of a nation when he proclaimed, "Hey, I don't CARE if my head looks like an exploding grain elevator, I'm innocent!"

Sorry, that's the most inspiring quote I could find from Capitol Hill, since congressional leaders have been too busy displaying their unity on the war. That way we won't notice they've done absolutely nothing on other, admittedly minor, issues such as health care, the environment, or what used to be known as the economy. It still looks a little like our old economy, but it doesn't quite have the zing that Federal Reserve Chair Alan "Mr. Party Hat" Greenspan would like.

I can joke about Alan—I call him "Alan"—since he's a personal friend of mine. The first time we met was in an optometrist's office several years ago. He came in to the waiting room and I immediately walked over to congratulate him on winning the Nobel Prize. I extended my hand and engaged in the following conversation, here rendered verbatim, far as I remember:

ME (with brash confidence): "You're Milton Friedman, aren't you?"

HIM: "No, I'm not."

ME (stubbornly): "Sure you are. You're Milton Friedman, the guy who won the Nobel Prize."

HIM: "I know who I am, young man. And I'm not Milton Friedman."

DOCTOR: "I can see you now, Mr. Greenspan."

ME (recovering nicely): "...ummmm...."

He may have forgotten that moving encounter in the years that mercifully intervened, but his memory was jolted awake at my daughter's high school graduation when he and I ended up in the same reception line. Overcome with the emotion of our belated reunion, neither of us spoke or even looked at each other until my mother—she's from a small town and doesn't hobnob with celebrities like I do—asked if I'd take a picture of "me and Mr. Friedman." My mom and the chair of the Federal Reserve Board, together at last.

Fortunately, I distracted her with some of those little chicken sticks, and we turned away leaving Mr. Greenspan alone to murmer a quiet prayer for God—any god, really—to smite me down at the earliest possible convenience.

NOW, WHERE WAS I? Oh yes, Alan Greenspan's peculiar silence about the war in Iraq. Maybe he's just spending too much time with my mom.

Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.

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