Richard Reeves

I Hear America Singing

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Like Walt Whitman, I hear America singing:

"...the varied carols I hear;

"...The carpenter singing his, as he measures his plank or beam,

"The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work..."

Of course, we are in burst-bubble trouble, so there is not enough work for singing carpenters and masons. And things are tough for Joe the Plumber, too. Dare I say that this week, America sang like a country losing its mind under the pressure of money, politics and war -- and then was redeemed by a soldier singing a hymn to the best in us.

For me, it began with the extraordinary (and a little nutty) letter by a 37-year-old hedge fund multimillionaire who worked down the street here and then decided there was no point to what he was doing, which was killing himself to get more and more money in hard times. It seems that, while I was sleeping, Andrew Lahde was making an 870 percent profit investing his own and other peoples' money. He left his wealthy clients with a two-page letter, angrily singing:

"I was in this game for the money. The low hanging fruit, i.e. idiots whose parents paid for prep school, Yale, and then the Harvard MBA, was there for the taking. These people who were (often) truly not worthy of the education they received (or supposedly received) rose to the top of companies such as AIG, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and all levels of our government. All of this behavior ... only ended up making it easier for me to find people stupid enough to take the other side of my trades. God bless America....

"I will let others try to amass nine-, 10- or 11-figure net worths. Meanwhile, their lives suck. Appointments back to back, booked solid for the next three months, they look forward to their two-week vacation in January during which they will likely be glued to their Blackberries or other such devices. What is the point? They will all be forgotten in 50 years anyway. ... Throw the Blackberry away and enjoy life."

Then along came a soprano, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a Republican, singing of Congress, demanding that her House, and the Senate, too, be investigated for anti-Americanism, beginning of course with Barack Obama. Like Lahde, she had some kind of nervous breakdown, this one on national television, on Chris Matthews' "Hardball" show:

"What I would say is that the news media should do a penetrating expose and take a look. I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America? I think people would love to see an expose like that."

Maybe they would. They loved it in the '50s when idiots like Bachmann charged that America was being run by a secret communist cabal.

Finally, Colin Powell, he of about all the honors America has to give, who had made a mockery of his own standing by allowing himself to be tricked into helping President George W. Bush get us into endless war, came on "Meet the Press" and brought at least one American, me, to tears. His song attacked his party, also the Republicans, and then he endorsed the Democratic candidate for president, Barack Obama, saying:

"I'm also troubled by what members of the party say. ... 'Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.' Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian ... But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? ...

"I saw (a picture) in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards -- Purple Heart, Bronze Star -- showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had a crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American."

I am, too. And Powell was talking about the country I grew up in and love, even when it's singing off-key in these pressured times.

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600

More like Richard Reeves