On the count of three, campers, everybody sing: "We are the river of hope/ That runs through the valley of fear. . . ." A river of syrup is about to run through America's living rooms, ruining the rugs. It is, as you are sentenced to learn, the official song of "Hands Across America," another example of right-mindedness masquerading as moral action.
About 6 million people -- 1,320 per mile -- are supposed to shell out $10 apiece (more if they want the T-shirt) for the privilege of joining hands in a transcontinental chain on May 25. This is supposed to raise $100 million for "the hungry and homeless." That sum is equal to eight-tenths of 1 percent of one antipoverty program (food stamps).
The spoilsport who provided that deflating figure is Mickey Kaus, a Los Angeles writer who says "Hands Across America" is another example (like Live Aid and Farm Aid and others) of "celebritics." That's a kind of nonpolitics that harnesses "the power of 'Entertainment Tonight' and the corporate tax deduction for worthy causes."
Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Citicorp and other corporations old enough to know better are supposed to pony up about $30 million to cover expenses. Madonna, no less, has blessed the project, so now the only problems are logistical, such as getting 1,128,400 people to line up across Arizona and New Mexico at mid-afternoon in May. Kaus calculates that will require the services of two of every three persons who live anywhere near the chain's route.
Kaus thinks celebritics express the idea that problems are the result of politicians' failures of will and that solutions result from consciousness- raising spectacles such as "Hands." The organizers stress the aim of inducing "awareness." But at 4 p.m., May 25, when 12 million sweaty palms are being dried and people are dispersing, what momentum will "awareness" have imparted to what form of social betterment? Such manufactured awareness is evanescent. The normal, banal political processes so disdained by practitioners of celebritics is what matters.
Fortunately, another exercise of right-mindedness, the great peace parade, has petered out 3,115 miles short of its 3,235-mile goal. Otherwise, May 25 -- the day of the hand-holding -- would have produced what Kaus calls "compassion gridlock." The peace march was supposed to send 5,000 "peace soldiers" from Los Angeles to Washington. Fewer than 1,000 made it 120 miles east of Los Angeles, then quit. Imagine, failure in spite of a paid staff of 113 and the support of Paul Newman and Barbra Streisand.
Such events are the equivalent of Easter parades for people who want to dress up their consciences and take them for a stroll so other people can see how pretty they are. This is not even sensitivity training for politicians; it is moral exhibitionism, and it is noth
Irving Kristol, reviewing a new book about New York intellectuals, recalls the days in the 1930s and 1940s when the 50 or so thinkers loosely associated with Partisan Review would hotly dispute whether they should "support" the "bourgeois" governments of Britain and France against Nazi Germany. When the Soviet Union invaded Finland, these thinkers argued about whether, given that the Soviet Union was a deeply flawed workers' state but Finland was an unregenerate bourgeois state, they -- these 50 thinkers, mind you -- should "call upon" Finnish workers to welcome the Soviet army. Kristol says: "Having the 'right position' was what counted, not talking sense."
America has gone off the boil, so such events as "Hands" are not billed as protests. Rather they are "affirmations" or "witnessings." Those words are designer labels designed to make "meaningful" the right-mindednes of "activists." "Activist" is an indicative word, because it suggests that the mere fact of activity, irrespective of consequences, is morally grave.
The most popular form of right-mindedness now involves child-mongering. Samantha Smith was used for that, as was, recently, Katya Lycheva, 11, the "Soviet Samantha." She was sent here to please people whose political thinking begins and ends with a biological fact: Russians and Americans are just folks, there fore . . .
Therefore, presumably, the "things that divide us" (things like philosophies) are superficial. But someone forgot to tell the kids in Brooklyn. When Katya visited a school there, a Soviet television crew asked some of the students what Russian cities they could name. "Moscow," said some. "Leningrad" said others. Basche Warner, 12, said "Gorki," where Sakharov is isolated and tormented. "The other children giggled mischievously" about Basche's reply, The New York Times reported.
Basche's splendid impudence has sort of subverted the mood of the sing-along, campers, but let's persevere:
"This earth that smells so sweet/ Cradles us all in its great heartbeat. . . ."
If you can say "cradled in a heartbeat" without giggling, listen up: 6 million people like you are needed at 3 p.m., May 25.