Salahi, Salahi, oh, such a wannabe;
Seeking reality here on our own TV.
Like sheep we all gather,
To watch all the blather,
About glitz and fake fame,
Have we lost all true shame?
We've come along way in the past one hundred years. We've gone from confidence to paranoia, and now as we face the enemy within we refuse to accept a truth too terrifying to acknowledge: We will never be safe. We never really were.
Michaele and Tareq Salahi of Virgina waltzed into an invitation-only White House dinner the other night. They were as glitzy and ditzy as everyone else there, so no one raised questions about their presence. They mugged with Vice President Joseph Biden, and President Barack Obama greeted them as though they were long lost friends. And then the Secret Service put it all together: Two members of the great unwashed had stumbled into this status fest. The couple were escorted out of the dinner; no desert for them.
I chuckled when I first learned of the stunt. Good for them, I thought. Beavis and his gal, Breasthead, pimp-walked into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Damn, I thought. This tastes good. Like a cold beer at half-time. The people tail-gating in the corridors of power.
But the more I read about this escapade, the more my heart sinks. The Salahi affair reveals alot about us, and none of it is reassuring.
At the turn of the twentieth century, the White House was still open to the public. Abraham Lincoln would complain about folks turning up seeking jobs. Twenty thousand people turned up at the White House to party with Andrew Jackson when he was sworn in. The doors were open on inauguration day almost until the twentieth century. Today the place is a social Fort Knox; even the street outside the building is closed to traffic?
I doubt we are more violent than Americans of years past. The world seems as prone as ever to war and random acts of violence. Lincoln, after all, had open doors at the White House, and was shot dead at the Ford Theater. Few thought to lock the nation down in the wake of that shooting, or to repeal the right to carry firearms. Today, I suspect security sepcialists respond to every hiccup by booting up their computers to share data on every single on of us identified as a threat at one point or another.
We recognized years ago in ways we struggle to accept now that life is, as Theodore Roosevelt once said, strife. Political passions seethed. Speech was robust. Conflict was recognized as an essential part of life. We didn't deny the drives that define us.
Things seem a little too stylized these days. We work so hard to be nice, to find just the right balance of competing passions and interests, that our idols are now mannequins, folks like Michaele Salehi.
The law speaks of reasonable people, and lawyers are taught to bargain in the law's shadow, but life on the street is still raw. Open your office's doors to the ordinary commerce of human affairs and you will at once be struck dumb by the furies. There is still passion in the streets; only at the top of life's pyramid has all grown insipid and stylized. Our modern courtiers live lives of suppressed desperation, and, somehow, we are transfixed by them. We aspire to reality TV.
Are the Salahi's folk heroes? Oh, say not so. They are wannabes, struggling to be beautiful. Their business is in distress, a Virginia winery trapped in a Dickensian horror worthy of Bleak House. So they seek distinction in something other than real success; they want to become stars in reality television. And here is the rub: We sit transfixed watching commentators discuss whetner aspiring reality television stars should have been permitted into the White House and given access to the once-vaunted leader of the free world and his palls. Jerzey Kozinski's Being There no longer looks like satire. Why, we might even prosecute the Salehis for some crime or other.
The Secret Service is mortified. Never again, it promises. Never again will access to the men and women with the most power be permitted without prior approval. We the people are simply too dangerous to be allowed unvetted access to our leaders. Even our proxies, the great pretenders who inspire us with unscripted bits of "reality" as we partake of the national Soma of network television, are too dangerous. There's danger everywhere, you see. We are all suspects. All of us harbor a terror within.
And so we tumble into a new century craving security and willing to pay almost any price to have it. We are willing to trade liberty for safety, but tell me: Who shall deliver us from the enemy within?
Ancient societies worshipped gods and goddesses who lived lives as untidy as the people who prayed to them. We say we are more sophisticated now. But the same unruly desires run amok, and we need to control them. Gone are the shrines. A culture without belief in anything but power and status now projects its fears onto new gods and goddesses. Begone, Zeus and Athena; welcome Michaele and the new political class. Are we free today? I doubt it. Everywhere there is terror and the threat of terror. But who shall protect us from ourselves?
The reaction of the gate-crashing at the White House by two aspiring reality television personalities reminds us that in the hurly burly of our days we are all potential terrorists to those in power. Who shall protect them from such scum as we?