An Annus Very Horribilis


By Leonard Fein

Published December 29, 2006, issue of December 29, 2006.
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Time magazine notwithstanding, I don’t believe I am “Man of the Year.” That is not an instance of false modesty, nor, for that matter, of true modesty.

Just so we understand each other, I don’t believe you are “Person of the Year” either. That is just not how it works. I mean, what’s the use of the competition if nobody can come in first?

If Time cannot bring itself to name a winner, why not focus on the losers, those who bogied their way through the year? There, there’s real competition.

Just to remind you. here’s a sampling of some of the news stories we’ve read (or might have) these last almost 12 months:

Let’s start with Rep. Virgil Goode, a Virginia Republican. He complains that newly elected Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat and African American Muslim, plans to take the oath of office with his hand on the Quran. “When I raise my hand to take the oath on swearing-in day, I will have the Bible in my other hand…. [I]f American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Quran.” And so forth.

Goode evidently forgets that the Constitution prohibits any religious test for public office and that the oath of office is an entirely secular ceremony. The speaker of the House administers the oath to the entire body, which stands with right hands raised and left hands dangling uselessly. Goode evidently did not realize that nonimmigrants, such as Ellison, can be Muslims.

Until Goode’s intemperate remarks, the word “xenophobia” was known only to Jews, who repeat the word several times during the Yom Kippur confessional, at least in synagogues that use the English alphabet of transgressions. It was a cozy word, and meeting it each year was almost like greeting an old friend. Now Goode has wrecked it for us.

But perhaps radio talk show entertainer Dennis Prager has retrieved it. Prager’s rant on Ellison, which actually preceded Goode’s, goes much further: He mutters that the act of taking the oath on the Quran “undermines American civilization” and “will embolden Islamic extremists and make new ones,” leading ultimately to “the Islamicization of America.” “When all elected officials take their oaths of office with their hands on the very same book, they all affirm that some unifying value system underlies American civilization. If Keith Ellison is allowed to change that, he will be doing more damage to the unity of America and to the value system that has formed this country than the terrorists of 9/11.” Welcome home, xenophobia.

Next is Judith Regan, until recently O.J. Simpson’s putative publisher. The official reason for her dismissal? Antisemitism, as in calling Jews “rodents.” As in, says The New York Times — her lawyer denies it — the claim by two HarperCollins executives that Regan was reprimanded by her employers three years ago “after an editor complained that she had boasted of removing the scrolls from her neighbors’ mezuzahs and replacing them with torn pieces from dollar bills.” If she did it.

Now on to Rep. Robin Hayes, a North Carolina Republican who, in a recent speech to the Rotary Club in Concord, N.C., said: “Stability in Iraq ultimately depends on spreading the message of Jesus Christ, the message of peace on earth, good will toward men. Everything depends on everyone learning about the birth of the savior.” What a creative way to end sectarian violence in Iraq; the Shi’ites and the Sunnis would become brothers in arms overnight.

Though he hardly would qualify for this distinguished list, with Hanukkah just past I’ve been thinking of Tom Lehrer. Just to refresh your memory (it’s been awhile), it was Tom Lehrer who wrote, “I’m spending Hanukah in Santa Monica, wearing sandals, lighting candles by the sea,” which concluded with: “But in December there’s just one place for me. Amid the California flora I’ll be lighting my menorah, like a baby in its cradle I’ll be playing with my dreidel, spending Hanukah, in Santa Monica, by the sea!”

Now we need Lehrer’s delicious satiric talents once more. It turns out that Dr. Sigmund Freud had a — what shall we call it? a relationship with his sister-in-law. Oh yes, the idols have feet of clay, or lust not only in their hearts, or some such.

There in the 1898 guest book of the Schweizerhaus, an inn in the town of Maloja in the Swiss Alps, is Sigmund Freud’s own John Hancock. He’d come there with his wife’s sister; they slept or whatever in Room 11. And in the guestbook, in Freud’s own handwriting, it says: “Dr. Sigm. Freud u frau” — and wife. Und frau? And how!

Well, why not? I mean of course not, but being Freud doesn’t mean being immune to the temptations that have seduced many men into seducing many women. (And vice versa.) Sometimes, the superego gives way to the id. It did. Oh, what a song Tom Lehrer could write!

If 1991 was, as Queen Elizabeth said, an “annus horribilis,” then 2006 was an annus very horribilis. The aforementioned, plus Mel Gibson and Mark Foley and Jack Abramoff and Donald Trump and Miss Arizona and so forth and so on and on and on. In such a year, no one comes in first.

May 2007 be an annus mirabilis for you and yours and me and mine and all others of good will, too.

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