In the gilded age of newspapers, the best understanding of the politics of the day came from reading Ann Landers or Dear Abby.
Puff-chested pontificators could empty their bloated egos into front-page stories about what a deputy minister said to a sub-committee. But the real temper of the times was in the two paragraphs of advice Ann and Abby gave their millions of readers.
When Ann Landers turned to promoting homosexual rights, for example, the gay lobby notched final victory. The times were not just a-changin' any more. They were overthrown, carrying a solon of middle-class morality and comportment with them. Everything in the same-sex crusade has been a mopping up operation ever since.
Newspapers are a shredded simulacrum of what they once were, of course, yet their readers still—you may insert the word 'inexplicably' here if you wish—look to them for advice on matters great and small.
The Globe and Mail, true to its projection of itself as that much better than the slobs it serves, maintains a full fleet of advice columnists. Few are worth the candle. None are more readable than David Eddie, who writes a weekly advice column called Damage Control.
Even by his revealing standard of measuring the world entirely against his own foibles, one of Eddie's recent columns could only be read with wonder. In it, he advised a concerned mother to be "ultra-tolerant" of the sado-masochistic lesbian who routinely walks her girlfriend on a dog's leash in front of the neighborhood children.
Rather than upbraiding the offending party for flaunting her fetish in front of confused preschoolers, Eddie wrote, the worried mom should focus on ensuring her own four-year-old daughter grows up to understand that such public conduct is perfectly normal, natural, and acceptable.
If your daughter somehow discovers the truth [about what the S&M lesbians were really doing]—well, that's no biggie, either, in the grand scheme. Just take her hand in yours, look into her eyes and say "Honey, it takes all kinds to make up this world." Maybe it'll help her grow up to be ultra-tolerant and hard to surprise.
When I read that paragraph, it provoked a memory from my own childhood of a couple getting carried away—really carried away—on a public beach where my family was spending the afternoon. My mother did not take time to write to the newspaper. She simply walked over and ordered—really ordered—them to stop. Immediately.
When the incontinent lout involved tried to talk back, she bellowed at him in a voice that carried to every ear on the beach: "You have corrupted the morals of every child on this beach. At least get up in the bushes where you belong. Are you a man or a dog?"
My mother was five-feet-two at her tallest. When she was in high school, she knocked a bully unconscious by hitting him over the head with a geography textbook to stop him picking on her older brother. When she lost her temper, it was like watching blind Fury take human form—and take over a human face. The lout, looking into it, slunk.
What struck me in contrasting that long ago episode with Eddie's response was not the juxtaposition of strength against weakness but the difference in the vocabulary available then to my mother, an ordinary citizen, and now even to an advice columnist in Canada's national newspaper.
Her language relied on a shared morality, yes. Much more importantly, it expressed a common code of expected public conduct even when that morality broke down. As a mother and as a citizen, she was protesting the corruption of the morals of children by forced exposure to sexual activity, true. But she was also infuriated by children having to witness human beings refusing to exercise minimal public self-restraint. She demanded, as she could, that a man on a beach differentiate himself from a dog on a lawn.
In Eddie's case, what has replaced that vocabulary is a void. A professional writer now lacks the lexicon to articulate for an inquiring reader why it should be morally repulsive and socially intolerable for adult human beings to, publicly and in front of children, treat each other like animals or slaves.
No biggie. Avoid surprise: expect the worst. Expect, in other words, that human beings are simply slaves to animal passion and lack any capacity to consider first their public obligations to you or anyone else. This is ultra-tolerance. This is the true politics of the day.
You will find it, if you know how to look, in the writings of the bloviators who fill the front page with deputy ministers and sub-committees. But in its most vivid form, it's tucked in the back, where readers still seek advice.