Paul Greenberg

There's no need to go into detail. We the People are simply expected to react favorably to any mention of Change. Call it the political version of a Pavlovian response. The marketing of presidential candidates still has more in common with selling soap than ideas.

When I took Advertising 101 in journalism school back in the age of teletypes and hot type, both of which now have the antique air of quill pens and parchment, I was told that the two most powerful words we could use in writing ad copy were New and You - a reflection of Americans' (1) constant infatuation with change, and (2) our complete self-absorption. At least that much hasn't changed.

Much like Anton Webern, we are so intoxicated by the blank, purely abstract future (A Bridge to the 21st Century!) that we lose touch with the very real past. And having forgotten it, we find ourselves on a bridge to nowhere, suspended in mid-air indefinitely.

And so, no longer anchored in the values of the past, much like Herr Professor Webern, we become prey to the ideology of the moment. In his sad case, it was National Socialism. If he'd been a Russian, it would have been the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. He had no ballast to keep him from being swept away. So we, too, run after ever novelty. Please, anything but the old and familiar, drab as prudence and gray as duty.

It's a familiar pattern: Note the star-stuck look in the eyes of the younger enthusiasts at any rally for a presidential candidate. Their candidate is going to change things forever. A new beginning!

But unless we maintain a bridge to the past, there will be nothing to pass on to the future, and we will find it as empty and unsatisfying as, well, as Webern's "Five Pieces," which is now only an historical curiosity itself.

Much as we fight against it, or even deny it, we're all destined to be part of the past. We can make it a meaningful or meaningless past, a full or empty one, a noble or base one, but we can't avoid becoming part of it - no matter how much we chant Change.

With a sigh, and a smile.

Inky Wretch


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.