Most of the time, this blog's name alludes to shouts of "NO!" that spring unbidden from the viewer (at least, this viewer) at the inanities, banality, sloppy reporting, and outright lies that appear nightly on our TV screens. Every now and again, though, the same screen produces shouts of "YES!", and it would be both silly and churlish not to acknowledge them.
Last night was such a night. First, Keith Olbermann delivered an hour-long "special comment" about the need for health care reform that drew upon his own recent experience in caring for his father, who was stricken by serious illness last month. In that editorial, Olbermann made reference to the fears that inform the craziness that has been prominent among opponents of reform, the failure of the supporters of reform to allay those fears, and the high stakes that raise the pressure and the volume on both sides of the argument ("it's about pain and death").
Olbermann's special comments have become legendary (or infamous, depending on who you talk to), and I had my doubts about whether he could keep one going for a full hour, but he did it, in spades. If you have time, click the link and have some - it's great television and a service to the republic.
Olbermann's show was followed by the always interesting Rachel Maddow, who provided a characteristically informative and provocative hour, but the last segment of her show was the cherry on top of the evening's offering - an inteview with Sarah Vowell about her history of the Puritan settlement of America, The Wordy Shipmates, which is newly out in paperback.
Vowell's take on our history is layered with both pride in our country's principles and and ambivalence about our shortcomings, and so provides a much richer assessment of the subject than most. Unsurprisingly, her history of the Puritans runs true to this form. She compares the experience and writing of John Winthrop and Roger Williams as two poles of the Puritan experiment, and makes an interesting case that much of our national character is both represented by and was established in the conflict between these two men.
What made the segment on Maddow's show so compelling, though, was a discussion of Winthrop's famous sermon, "A Model of Christian Charity", written while Winthrop was on his way to become governor, and famous because of its exhortation that the Massachusetts Bay Colony should rise to its destiny as a "city on a hill", the city that Ronald Reagan referred to as "shining" in his paean to American greatness three hundred years later. Vowell pointed out that unlike Reagan's speech, WInthrop's sermon takes much more account of the fact that we can fail at this task, and that if we do so, it will be from a lack of the communitarianism that he calls for.
I expect that it was a coincidence, but coming as it did after Olbermann's personal and impassioned plea that we fix the glaring hole in our community represented by the health care system in this country, it was particularly moving and appropriate. Vowell points out that in making reference to the "shining city on the hill", Reagan buried the lede of the sermon itself. Instead, she commends to us a much more poetic and much less triumphalist passage, which comes just before the city on the hill reference:
"We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body."
I'm not a believer, but even I can say "amen" to that.