Friday, January 15, 2010

Will Massachusetts join the world?

If the sound of ghostly laughter is heard in Massachusetts these days as this campaign rolls on, with Martha Coakley self-portrayed as the guardian of justice and civil liberties, there is good reason. - Dorothy Rabinowitz, Wall Street Journal

With all due respect, that is not Ted Kennedy’s seat and it is not the Democrats’ seat. It is the seat of the people of Massachusetts. – Scott Brown, who is running for United States senator in Massachusetts

I like to point up and explain to my kids with pride when we drive through Providence that their grandfather put the beacon light in the Hancock building, the tallest building in Providence at the time. And when we drive through Fall River to tell them that he was the electrician in the last factory to head south. He turned the lights out. But like so many things that have come and gone here where we have walked with ghosts since the Witch Trials 1692, that world is dead. It died I think when Bob Dylan came to Newport with a wooden guitar. I was there because the Catholics in my town went to high school in Newport and before it got big, the folk festival was in our high school football field. New angels took us. Good ones too. And by then my father was more American than he was Irish and so were all the French, Portuguese and everyone else who had come to Massachusetts.

Then something happened here which brought us to a full stop. The war in Vietnam. It stopped America cold but the rest of the country moved on. Back in Massachusetts we seemed to stay stopped. It seemed in hindsight that the assassination of John F. Kennedy killed something in us from which we were unable to recover. I moved to New York.

In 1972 George McGovern lost the Presidential race to Richard Nixon in a landslide. He carried one state, Massachusetts. Massachusetts took a certain detached pride in this with some justification. But we never quite reattached. We become the American shadow; an American counterforce, running against the grain at every turn and taking pride in doing so. And we became a magnet for counterforce; it became anthem and ethic almost absurd, a local, provincial kind of Groucho Marxism, like Quincy Adams Wagstaff of Huxley College in Horse Feathers singing, “Whatever it is, I’m against it.”

In 2004 I volunteered to work for Wesley Clark in the New Hampshire primary. At a fund raiser in Concord his local chief expressed her enthusiasm for General Clark by saying that it was “ . . . just like with George McGovern.” I knew we were screwed. All the real Yankees had moved to Texas and we who remained had become the people who liked to lose. That we would run the timid and circumspect Mike Dukakis in 1988, who was a national laughing stock and who lost in an Electoral College landslide to George H.W. Bush which was no surprise, was evidence that our detachment had become chronic; was evidence that we had come to take pride in losing.

We had developed a pride in failure. A pride in detachment. A pride in political transference. We had become aloof. In this phase we, many of us, the most common of common people in all of America and possibly in all the world, developed a new contempt for the working class, classically seeing them as a threat and, as the old Southern planters did, scorning the “link heads” and the “white trash” and developed deep and sentimental affections instead for the meanest and lowliest of proletariat. You can see this with the Car Talk guys. We, the common working class of Massachusetts and now everywhere, desired to have the guys who fixed our cars to have degrees from MIT. That is not what you want in a car guy. You want a picture of your mechanic in a photo-op at the Wilkesboro track with his arm proudly around the celestial number 3, Dale Earnhardt.

It has become the curse of plain folk, the suddenly rich; people like Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House. We are not sure how we got here; got suddenly rich – we got here quickly riding a post-war wave of instant cash – but we might take a cue from the Native Americans as Fennimore Cooper did and ask ourselves what work were our grandmothers and grandfathers doing three generations back. Because we could well be doing the same work again in the three generations next.

That Obama has let the House and Senate rank and file, regarded by the general population somewhere between earthworms and ground-feeding catfish, take over his Presidency will overshadow anything else he does and mark him as a failure of historic proportions. Ramming through the health care legislation when only 37% approve will be seen as a mistake of historic proportions. Because so many of the inland states and the Gulf states have in this same year and precisely because of the tenure of Pelosi, Barney Frank, Harry Reid and it must be included, Obama, have found the mechanism to defend against domination by Massachusetts dilettantes and as Texas Gov. Rick Perry said recently, “. . . the excesses of unrestrained government at every level.": State sovereignty. Whether they pass it or not makes no difference. It will not stand. There is today a true and real chance of the division of America into like-minded regions – red and blue is the operative phrasing - beginning in the next few years because of this legislation and because of its agents.

And that is what the race is about next week between Scott Brown and Martha Coakley. The stakes could not be higher.


Goethe Girl said...

This is tangentially connected with your topic. It struck me while watching Sarah Palin's interview with Glenn Beck that SP doesn't really have presidential ambitions. I think she wants something more profound: to remind Americans of all that have been lost in the decades since McGovern ran for president, to reawaken the "American" spirit that the Boomers in power have replaced with government "expertise." Our affluence has made it easy for us to accept this, but there are signs that people are emerging from the slough of despond in which we have been sunk since the Sixties. As I was watching the Beck interview, part of me was wanting SP to speak more like Karl Rove or Charles Krauthammer or other pundits; I think she can actually make that transformation if she wants. But I think she had decided to stay doing what she does best, which is to appeal to the good sense of ordinary folks, to urge them to do what is necessary. It is a much profound thing to do, and I hope it works.

Anonymous said...