The moral light of Paris Hilton

Posted: Jun 15, 2005 12:00 AM

For those with a gloomy view of our civilization's future, a small beam of light has broken through the clouds. Paris Hilton has announced she plans to retire from public life and raise a family.

 According to the Associated Press, the Zsa Zsa Gabor of our times has observed that "I don't enjoy going out anymore. It's such a pain. It's everyone saying, 'Let's do a deal! Can I have a picture?" I'm just, like, "These people are such losers. I can't believe I used to love doing this."

 Out of the mouths of babes.

 Translated into non-Valley talk English, Ms. Hilton, suddenly wise beyond her years, has rejected materialism, the culture of celebrity and the moral shortcomings of the demimonde found in chic urban clubs.

 Delving further into her study of proper behavior, she firmly endorsed the age-old advice of experienced parents that it is unwise to associate with people who frequent sordid places or indulge in hedonistic practices. Gertrude Himmelfarb, Rev. Jerry Falwell and the Heritage Foundations could give no firmer moral guidance. And to think that only recently Ms. Hilton could be seen in cyberspace (so I am told) copulating joyously with a man not her husband. 

 Before getting too ecstatic at her full conservative moral redemption, it must be pointed out, according to Newsweek, that shortly after announcing her intention to retire from public life, she wore a tiara as grand marshal in The Los Angeles Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual & Transgender Pride Parade -- not that there is anything wrong with that.

 Newsweek went on to note that she doesn't plan to implement her retreat from publicity for two years. But I can understand that. I plan to start my diet next week. There's no time like the future for moral or other redemption. Still, there is value in good intentions. Before the act must come the perception that one is in need of redemption. We often have a few false starts before we succeed. I quit smoking two times before it finally took.

 So I wish Ms. Hilton well in her plans to become a moral pillar of our society and, like the rest of us, start going to bed early in one's own bed with one's own spouse. I think she will find that she can become a pillar without becoming a stiff.

 I am now looking for a few slender shafts of light coming through the clouds to give hope to those of us who are inclined to despair of conditions in the political sphere. Last week, I wrote censoriously of the excessive schadenfreude I had been observing in politics. I received quite a flood of e-mail, including several from people in the political business, sharing my concern. A measurable minority of the responses thought I was either going soft or was a hypocrite. I will accept the latter charge -- although I prefer to think I am having second thoughts about how to view the failure and suffering of my political opponents.

 But as to the first charge of going soft. I plead not guilty. I still believe in vigorous, tough, even bruising, political fighting and rhetoric. That's the traditional American style of political debate. Harry Truman accused Republicans of putting pitchforks into the backs of American farmers. Republicans have certainly matched such language.

 But what increasingly concerns me is not only the pleasure too many of us are gaining in seeing our opponents suffer, but the trend in the tone of our language.

 I have been in the middle of the public Washington political debate going on two decades -- for seven of those years as Newt Gingrich's very noisy press secretary. I have seen the tone shift from pointed to angry to defamatory to verbally violent to dehumanizing.

  And during that time, such language moved from the crankish margins of the debate to being used by people in responsible positions. On the Internet, the tone now includes obscene, scatological and violent language. At some point these burning words may cross over and inflame action.

 Words and ideas have consequences. If we don't watch out, we are going to find we have engendered left-right domestic political violence in this country. 

 But every societal trend can be reversed, and every abyss can be walked back from. If Paris Hilton can see the wisdom of raising a family in a quiet private life, surely we can find the wisdom in fighting hard for our principles without enraging the body politic to the point of mayhem.