Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Politics and the Lava Lamp Syndrome

A church that figures prominently in governing issues gives lava lamps to young people especially selected to defy their own generational instincts and carry the ancients forward. The ancients see the lava lamp as a symbol of its commitment to “youth.” Remember “youth”? It is what they used to call teen agers in the 1960s as if it –youth – was its very own minority or ethic group. Remember lava lamps? They were a commercial fad in 1965. The slow movement of the viscous liquids had a soothing effect on college kids – youth – back then getting stoned and listening to James Taylor in the college dorms in Amherst, Storrs and Cambridge.

It is pretty hard for us New Englanders to let go of things – like James Taylor – and people sometimes mistakenly think we are serious because we keep remembering things that everyone else has long forgotten; Cotton Mather, The Book of Common Prayer, Squanto, beans and franks on Saturday night, James Taylor and lava lamps. It might be expected; possibly the best of us have long gone west, a good many following Joseph Smith well over 100 years ago now. Others followed the Asian muse to the Pacific Palisades in the shiny car in the night and the hardiest crossed the Yukon to Alaska. There are two kinds of churches here in New England: stone church and wood church. Emerson said they were both the same. Walpola Rahula, a Buddhist, said they were both really political parties. Mine is wood but I bring news to the stone church: Tiny Tim is dead and so is Kurt Cobain. A guy name Steve Jobs has invented a great new electric typewriter called Apple and Taylor and Jake have split up. And the Sixties called: They want their lava lamp back.

But you can see the problem here: “Youth” here is imagined by people well into the eighties and their vision has varied little since the 1950s. It is a problem in political parties both with the old and the young: The old, H.W. and Barbara Bush, support those who most resemble them as they remember themselves to be when they were young. And the youth – such as it is – strive to be like them as they imagine them to have been back in the Fifties. Mitt Romney wins the lava lamp award this year for the Republicans but Mike Pence in the Tea Party mask is runner up.
Hands down, the award for the Democrats goes to President Barack Obama. If the Republican is the party of the Fifties remembering itself, Obama fulfills the yearnings of the Sixties. How proud Rose Kennedy would be, and thrilled that he even walks a Kennedy dog.

This is why the 2012 race will be so compelling. Time can no longer be held back. The century is upon us. The party of the Fifties will yield to the new and possibly so now will the party of the Sixties.

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