by Bernie Quigley
I left home because of the Kennedys. It was nothing they themselves did personally. In fact, I admired the first of the brothers enormously. And here in New England, they belonged to us – us being the people of South Boston who came from Ireland in ships that still traveled under sail as my grandmother’s did. Indeed, when the original ancestor of Joe and Honey Fitz established a bar on
When I was a child I’d be taken to political rallies to meet John F. Kennedy when he was still a local pol, dragged off by my parents against my will to smoky auditoriums in
So it wasn’t something that they did. The Kennedys more than anyone brought us Boston Irish from Old World to New World and gave us true democratic sensibilities. It was a problem with the rest of us. Years later when Robert F. Kennedy was murdered the age changed dramatically. But the Kennedys kept coming. Some it seemed, were unfit for office, but just the same, we elected them. It was our Old World sensibility, from a European world of authority and monarchy which trusted in family and ethnicity rather than reason, conscience and citizenship, still active, still alive and dominating our New World sensibility. In
I thought it was only us Irish, of the paternalistic church and the habits of the 19th century European. But recently journalist Joe Klein mentioned it in one of his essays. Now it’s a Clinton thing as well, and like it was with the Kennedys, Friends of Bill will vote for anyone named Clinton whether she has leadership qualities or not, whether she has political instincts or not, or whether she can be elected or not. One who merely represents them as a generation or a tribe (or a generational tribe). Klein called this a creeping monarchist tendency in American politics.
This tendency to vote ethnically (or generationally) is a monarchist tendency. It is why I left
When I was a child, we, the ethnic Irish in a secular American world, seemed overly religious to our secular neighbors, and it had a political dimension. It was the way we defined ourselves as a group, in opposition to our local political adversaries. Irish Catholics were well aware that they had two sensibilities; one ethnic/religious, and one secular/political. In those days you would never see a Catholic with a bumper sticker announcing his religion. It was un-American and disrespectful to the Protestants, who were our political adversaries, but adversaries we respected as fellow citizens. But in the end, citizenship won out over ethnicity and religion identity and we became Americans. For which I say, Thank you Jesus.
Then in 1991,
That was before George W. Bush. Suddenly, Protestants were religious, and frankly, in a heartfelt and sincere way. And the Irish were no longer. Last year in Southie, the Catholic Church shut down dozens of its cavernous stone cathedrals to which millions came to worship a hundred years back.
Now the Republicans are getting monarchist. Klein mentioned that they now look longingly to Jeb Bush to follow in his father’s and brother’s footsteps. I must admit I was kind of shocked when I was on the road last year and stopping for coffee, happened to notice on CNN TV news Jeb Bush throwing himself at the feet of the new German Pope. Just like my old Irish aunties would do when the priest came to the house. Just as we Irish threw ourselves to the feet of the Kennedys.
I think it will happen one day that our democratic sensibility and our sense of ourselves as citizens and as Americans will yield to religious identity, to ethnicity, to tribalism and to monarchy. Regionalism will flourish and we will come to distrust our neighbors not of our own blood, as we did in Europe for millennia and back then in
We are at the cusp of an awakening in
Today we are beginning to hear discussion of the Old Democrats (Clintons, Gore, Kerry) and the New Democrats (Mark Warner, Wesley Clark, Russ Feingold). The one is yielding and the other is ascending. Once again the snake is shedding its skin. And there is a new generation of vital new Democrats, many of them recent veterans of
Recently we have been through a bad spate of leadership, but that happens every time the old yields to the new. What is new here is the new century, and those times are upon us.