Could a large rubber duck mend America?

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For my money, the most wonderful thing about the big rubber duck was not the money. It was the infectious good cheer.

Sure, it's great our giant tub toy drew visitors to Pittsburgh, and natives to Downtown, to spend money on hotels and restaurants and duck-emblazoned merchandise. That's a big win.

But even better were the joy and downright silliness that sight or mere mention of it provoked. The lightness of heart couldn't have come at a better time.

Lately, the life of our nation has seemed suffused with anger and sadness that spring from our political divisions and from, I think, a fear of what's ahead.

I can barely bring myself to turn on the evening news or talk radio. Who needs more of the wearying discord?

With "dead-tree" media and online reading, at least I can control my necessary intake of frustrating news. But it feels like it has contaminated a lot of daily life.

While occasional, appropriate anger can provide moments of great clarity and prompt the speaking of uncomfortable truths, sustained and relentless anger kills good humor and generosity of spirit. It hampers clear thinking.

But political disagreements don't have to lead to constant seething. They don't have to prevent civil discourse, cordiality and even friendship. We could, you know, grow up.

Modern conservatism's founder, William F. Buckley Jr., and John Kenneth Galbraith, a Keynesian economist and old-style liberal, were great intellectuals committed to quite different beliefs, but their friendship was life-long.

You don't hear of many like it these days.

I remember when a local man who's both funny and smart publicly described hanging backstage with Bruce Springsteen before a concert and pointing out, as requested, any Republicans he saw.

Why? So "The Boss" could ... not play to them? It's one of the stupidest things I've ever heard, but nursing anger for decades will do that to ya.

Despite the rock legend's well-known political animus, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, considers himself a huge fan, has attended more than 100 concerts and spoken freely to reporters about it, with nary an acknowledgement from his home-state idol.

When Mr. Springsteen finally saw fit to speak to Gov. Christie, after Superstorm Sandy and just days before the 2012 election, the Los Angeles Times said the two "finally have made small steps toward reconciling their long-simmering standoff."

That's completely wrong: The "standoff" was one-sided, stoked by the musician's well-known "simmering" political rage.

Perhaps the bear hug they shared at a post-Sandy fundraiser will be the beginning of a real friendship. Perhaps it's never too late to think hard about your anger.

I hope that realization someday dawns on the staff at New York magazine.

The first thing to turn to in the left-leaning magazine is its much-copied "Approval Matrix," a grid where current events, art and entertainment are rated from "Low-Brow" at the bottom to "High-Brow" up top and from "Brilliant" on the right side to "Despicable" on the left. (Hmmm. Any significance on that match of adjective to direction? Just kidding!)

Anyway, in 2011, when both Alex Trebek, of "Jeopardy!," and Pat Sajak, of "Wheel of Fortune," received a Daytime Emmy for Lifetime Achievement, New York's "Approval Matrix" deplored the fact that Mr. Trebek would have to share the event with Mr. Sajak.

No explanation was given for why this merited a spot on the "Despicable" side of the matrix. Both of the men host game shows, using hand-held cue cards. Both men are likeable and engage in lots of charity work.

Having watched both shows off and on for decades (depending on when I'm making dinner), I'd say Mr. Sajak has a sunny demeanor and very quick wit, while Mr. Trebek is kind and earnest.

So why would it be awful for the two -- who are on quite friendly terms -- to share an Emmy moment? It seems to have less to do with their entertainment value than with New York's sacred cow of left-wing politics. Mr. Sajak's a libertarian who blogs for the late Bill Buckley's magazine, National Review.

His humor is equal-opportunity, by the way. After a "Same Name" puzzle paired "Wind Chill & "The O'Reilly Factor," Mr. Sajak quipped, "One is icy and biting, and the other is the wind chill factor."

When we deem politics more sacred than people, that's when we lose our civility, our sense of proportion, our good humor and good will. Our big rubber duck had all those attributes -- or inspired them. I'm thinking of making him my new sacred cow -- maybe organizing a party of fellow believers who understand the Power of the Duck and await his return.

"You who agree are clearly superior beings, worthy of my respect. The rest are ... not."


Ruth Ann Dailey: First Published October 20, 2013 8:00 PM


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