Sunday, November 08, 2009

Barney Frank is a pig

by Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 11/08/09

Speaking of self esteem issues, only an overweight career buffoon who proudly and conspicuously talks like a duck to display his endemic contempt for the world west of Boston would say that some of the people at the rally “ . . . appeared to have been the losers in the 'Are you smarter than Michele Bachmann contest?'"

Thinking we are really smart is part of the curse of being a non-Yankee in New England. Time has long passed us by, even the real Yankees. But also for us immigrants and outlanders who likewise wear the regimental tie although we bought it at Quincy Market. We have not been important since 1865. New York, the Empire State, conquered us when it conquered the South. Our second-most perceptive observer beyond the Celestial Bard wrote in The Bostonians that after the Civil War the only man of character he could find up here was a Confederate officer visiting from Texas.

Boston has always been a magnet for losers seeking status. But we are history’s side meat. That is what the Curse is about. New York has all the money. They have all the talent. Those who strive to be great move there. Those who strive to appear great move here. They have Jeter and Johnny Daemon and Norman Mailer and Nobel laureates in hard stuff like physics just pouring out of the Bronx and Brooklyn. And we have Barney Frank. So we pretend we are smart and urbane. Pity the poor immigrant, just over from Ireland, Poland or up from New Jersey; most all of us up here in these crabby little towns with cramped streets pretending to be the new tall white people. Pity the poor immigrant, said Bob Dylan, he wishes he were dead.

We have been taking a beating since we arrived at the public theater that is Boston (and Taunton and Fall River and New Bedford) so short a time ago. We came from nothing and rode the post-war wave of prosperity to insecurity; craving the status of the gentry but retaining all of the clutching needs of our factory worker grandparents. So afflicted with the class burden of “urban Irish” (or Poland or New Jersey) that when an old uncle of mine retired from his government job and his brother from the liquor store and none of his relatives were cops any longer he took an apartment across from the Harvard Yard gates and pretended to be a Harvard professor for the rest of his life.

The anguish of drunken fathers and uncles and all the dead and dying babies, the broken mothers – half the women in the family dying of TB and brown lung and despair; the tasteless boiled cabbage on Sunday afternoons in rooms that smelled of the dead and echoed the absence of Ireland in the sad faces of so many, many, many spinster aunties praying the rosary. An Irish pol in the old days, cigar and drink in hand, diamond pin in the tie and high collar would show his swagger by announcing that he got his kid into Harvard through political influence even though the Irish boy was as dumb as a post. The dumber the boy gotten into Harvard, the higher the status of the father.

But not nearly so bad as the pitiful yearnings of the “secondos” grasping at Harvard and Congress – those second generation or later immigrants today yearning to be just like the tall and long in the tooth at Harvard; striving for the patrician grace and the easy self assurance of the lanky Galbraith, still at his desk at 100, the temeritous vigor and vivid, cold eye of Kennan who lived to that age as well, and the eternal, vigilant focus of Eisenhower. But finding only unfulfilment in what we are not. The pitiful underlying reality is that the patricians saw us coming and turned the plantation over to us, as the planters did with the slaves in the South, moving to Texas to follow oil or to the Pacific Palisades with their oriental mistresses.

Only one in a hundred survived, said Pat Moynihan. And that one, like Pauli Walnuts, was imprisoned on the edge in his ethnic gulag and terrified of “Elvis land” and the plain talking folk from the heartland like Michelle Bachmann. The price was high, and for those pretenders in Congress and those still striving at the gate at Harvard, it still is. The price is Barney Frank.