There are few character flaws worse, in my opinion, than one's carping.  A person who perversely and continuously capitalizes upon others' shortcomings invariably evokes the question, "Why not get a life?" As legitimate as this question is, sometimes it is misapplied. Sometimes a criticism, which may appear little more than an inclination to find fault, is really an eye-opening insight.  You be the judge in the following instance.

On Saturday night, January 9, the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles squared off in a playoff game. It was their third confrontation this season. The contest took place in the new billion dollar stadium that Cowboys' owner, Jerry Jones, built.  Comfortably ensconced in his stadium suite, at the apex of luxury, Jones studiously watched the game and cheered exuberantly each time his team scored.  Irretrievably lost was any sense of balance or proportion.  It was as if this amusement were "the moral equivalent of war."  Nuclear proliferation, the threat of terror, the distrust of government, and the unraveling of Western culture all seemed to take a subordinate seat to this football game and the stadium where it was played.  Can anyone but an imbecile deny that Mr. Jones typifies the moral and spiritual bankruptcy not only of professional sports, but also of the empty diversions which often characterize a decadent empire.  Rome would have, I'm convinced, cultivated an "American obsession" for football if the game had been known then.

Thus far, I have stated merely the obvious.  I've yet to zero-in on my main point.  After one of the scores, which placed the Cowboys out of Eagles' reach, the cameras panned to Jones's suite, and whom did we see there, congratulating Mr. Jones, and triumphantly shaking his hand but former President George W. Bush!  It was if Mr. Jones had suddenly found the cure for world pestilence.

You may be tempted to exclaim at this point, "Give the embattled ex-President a break!"  It is true that the man is now a private citizen and does not have to calculate, or to worry about, the effect of his appearances.  It is safe to say that he has laid that burden down.

But what, if anything, does it say about a former President who would, even for a moment, step into Jerry Jones's world and accept his hospitality?  To do that, while allowing himself to be seen by humanity doing it, screams of scrambled values and shamelessness.  What ever happened, I wonder, to heroes like Harry Truman, who refused after leaving office to pander to corporate interests and to the likes of Jerry Jones?  Truman would never have considered sitting on a corporate board or otherwise gracing it with his time, attention, and especially his stature.  He closely monitored his associations out of respect for the office he once held.  Try as hard as you can, there is scarcely a way to visualize a Harry Truman preening beside a Jerry Jones in front of the American public.

Perhaps I am carping.  Yet I think it imperative for anyone who has occupied the Oval Office to be carefully circumspect about those whose invitations he accepts.  For George W. Bush to avail himself of entertainment labeled "courtesy of Jerry Jones" is not at all the image of a former President that elevates the office.

It may be that Mr. Bush has not thought deeply about the moral dimension of his associations.  I would not doubt that.  It may also be that he regards Mr. Jones as a personal friend of his. I would say that is likely.  I don't know.  But there is an old adage about "birds of a feather . . ."  A man's associates tend, even after his life as a public official, to raise soul-searching questions for a country, when he was the one who led it into wars in which it is still embroiled, where particular corporate interests were also enriched immeasurably.  This sad fact, combined with profligate spending policies, rushed to my mind last evening as I took note of Mr. Bush's night out. 

As it turned out, I was happy with my own decision not to structure my Saturday evening schedule around the Cowboys' game.

January 10, 2010