Brian Birdnow
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In his syndicated New York Times column of October 26th entitled “Changing The World” Bob Herbert, syndicated columnist, noted Ronald Reagan hater, and former NBC national correspondent (although no one daresay that there is a liberal revolving door), worked himself into a fine lather charging his countrymen with apathy, hopelessness and despair in the face of our nations admittedly myriad problems. He wonders what has happened to the old American spirit and why we have become a nation of sheep lulled into silence by ennui, or bought off by bread and circuses. He finishes his lament concluding that modern Americans will meekly accept any outrage, abuse of power, or diminution of liberty without a murmur of protest.

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He began his missive by harkening back to the halcyon days of the Civil Rights movement and contrasted the spirit of that age with the “…sense of hopelessness so many Americans have been feeling as the nation is confronted with one enormous and seemingly intractable problem after another. The helplessness is beginning to border on paralysis.” He points out, fairly enough that the country remains sunk in “…the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.” He hits the nail squarely on the head, moreover, when he remarks, “The government’s finances resemble a Ponzi scheme.”

Herbert begins skating on thin ice, however, when he attempts to address the causes of the current discontents and the public response to the unpleasantness. He says, “Americans have tended to watch with a remarkable and frightening degree of passivity as crises of all sorts have gripped the country and sent millions of lives into tailspins.” Herbert then returns to those thrilling days of yesteryear, stating, “Where people once might have deluged their elected officials with complaints, marched for social justice, and created brand new civic organizations to fight for things they believed in, the tendency now is to assume that there is little or nothing ordinary individuals can do about the conditions that plague them.”

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Brian Birdnow

Brian E. Birdnow is a historian and teaches at a university in the St. Louis area.