Laura looked terrific. Sounded terrific.
And she reads well, too. Very well.
No, I’m not Chris Matthews, whose on-air propensity for commenting on the physical appearance of his female guests (as he has done with Ms. Ingraham and others) occasionally detracts from his zeal to bash the war in Iraq.
But there is, I think, a direct connection between the way radio talk show host and author Laura Ingraham has been looking and sounding lately and the contents of her new book, Power to the People.
The book is a rallying cry for Americans who have increasingly felt marginalized by what they see going on in their once familiar culture. The arguments are crisp, well reasoned, and filled with facts. The importance of family, immigration, terrorism and national security, federalism and more are discussed with imagination and a perceptive authority. In particular her expertise as a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas shines through, lasering in on exactly the extent to which un-elected judges have usurped the powers of elected officials. Her passionate insistence on the importance of citizen action is designed to encourage the reader to shake off the couch-potato mentality and do something.
But all of this said, there is something else going on with Laura Ingraham that is both noted in her book and which she freely acknowledges in her public appearances. Laura has had what I call an “Aeschylus Moment.”
FOR THE RECORD, ALTHOUGH we were colleagues in the Reagan administration and, apparently for a brief time in the White House, I simply don’t remember her. (I know, I know, how could I possibly not remember Laura Ingraham?? Sorry, but I don’t. Hey! I was there to work!) We have met twice since, once introduced briefly a few years ago at a rally for judges, the second time earlier this year when she came to give a speech for Pennsylvania conservatives. This time we chatted at cocktails before I settled in to the audience to hear her speech. I confess, knowing of her recent bout with cancer I did the inevitable human thing, that instinctive “is this person OK?” scan that we all do consciously or unconsciously in these circumstances. For Laura fans out there, I can tell you she looked and sounded, as mentioned, terrific. If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t know.
So, what of Aeschylus and Laura?p>Aeschylus, for those of you not into ancient history, was a Greek playwright credited in history with being the father of tragedy. In our time he is perhaps most frequently quoted in connection with the late Robert F. Kennedy, who took to reading the classicist Edith Hamilton in the wake of his brother’s murder. On the night of Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968, RFK stepped to a microphone in front of a mostly black audience in Indianapolis to give them the news of King’s death. In doing so, he quoted Aeschylus as quoted by Hamilton. As might be expected under this kind of impromptu circumstance, RFK misquoted Hamilton’s translation, thus sending into permanent circulation a mistranslation of minor proportions from Aeschylus. The RFK version, which came to mind as I listened to Laura speak that evening in Harrisburg, is this: br> /p>
In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.br> “Aeschylus moments,” as I eventually called difficult times, are my way of referring to those periods in a human life when something or some collection of things goes seriously off track — or at least radically departs from what most people consider to be the “normal” or “expected” course of their life. Aeschylus moments can include the death of a family member or close friend, a serious illness for yourself, the ending of a treasured relationship. It can, in short, be anything that qualifies as trauma, a turning of one’s world upside down — or, to use the term associated with Aeschylus, tragedy. And when the pain of that moment passes, after it has fallen “drop by drop upon the heart,” the person in question comes out the other side a different person than he was before he had his Aeschylus moment. If he’s lucky, he is wiser, more thoughtful, determined to use his hard earned wisdom for something greater than himself.
In Laura’s case, the early death of her mother was followed some time later by a much publicized engagement, the shocking discovery of breast cancer, followed by the breaking of her engagement and the punishing regimen of her cancer treatment, replete with the physical horrors of chemotherapy and radiation. A considerable Aeschylus moment by anyone’s standards, the period also includes her conversion to the Catholic Church.
So as I listened to her speak that evening I wondered if this would reveal itself in some fashion. It did. After the usual opening humor, filled with her trademark asides and pointed jokes, her demeanor visibly shifted. That very evening, she told her audience, marked exactly the second anniversary of the day she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Only recently, she said, in looking back at her “odyssey” in order to write about it, had she realized “that it really is true that in our darkest moments individually and I hope as a nation we really take that moment to think, for a moment, ‘what’s the point of all this?’ What are we here for? What is this thing called America and what are we going to do with it?”
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