Sunday, September 24, 2023

The Wrong Skills at the Wrong Time

Kathleen Parker is getting pilloried on social media for this column on John Fetterman's relaxed Senate dress codes, and particularly for this passage:

As little as I have loved Republicans the past few years, coinciding with the rise of our own little autocrat, at least Donald Trump knows how to dress. I can’t imagine that even he would demean his office or his country by dressing down, as is now the “code” for senators.

"Democracy dies in darkness" indeed. 

I do have a twinge -- just a twinge -- of sympathy for Parker, however.  Sometime recently (I can't find it), I wrote a post about the misfortune when a given person's particular skills or virtues are not suited to the historical era they live through. At some times we might need the bold charge-ahead fearlessness of a martial warrior; at others, the crafty prudence of a backroom negotiator. It's unfortunate for the person who has all the virtues necessary for the former situation if it turns out they are living in an epoch where the latter is called upon, and vice versa. It's a cosmic unfairness, but not an actual one: history does not owe it to us to bend itself to our talents. But that doesn't mean we can't sympathize with the people caught on the wrong side of history's weave.

With respect to Parker, the heat she's taking -- and rightfully so -- is about the profound silliness and tone-deafness to focus on this now. The juxtaposition of a failure to maintain a certain sartorial standard against "our own little autocrat" underscores its own ridiculousness.

The thing is, perhaps there was a time when this sort of commentary would be appropriate and make sense. I don't agree with Parker on the merits anyway, but maybe if it were the 1990s there would be valid space for this sort of fashion-commentary to be a part of our political discourse. Or perhaps not. I was pretty contemptuous of the journalists salivating over taking a piece out of "earth-tone" Al Gore, and Jonathan Chait ten years ago delivered the fatal knockout punch to Sally Quinn's dewy reminiscence about the days of Georgetown Dinner Parties solving our all political crises. Maybe politics is always too serious for this sort of commentary to be anything but a juvenile distraction.

But if things aren't always too serious, well, they're too serious now. And that means that, sadly for Parker, the skills she brings to the table are just not suited for the moment we're living in. It's unfortunate for her, and again, I do feel for her a little bit. But history is not going to bend to accommodate her on this.

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

Martial, not marital.