No longer out of touch, and regretting it
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I went away to snow-covered Maine for a few days -- I believe the words snow-covered and Maine are actually part of the Pine Tree State's official title -- and I lost touch up there in the winter wonderland with what was going on.
When I came back, everything had changed. Health care reform, which had been talked to death, had apparently expired under the weight of the discussion.
Then the U.S. Supreme Court, where these days good laws go to die, decided that a corporation had the same rights to free speech as a regular person. This came about as a result of judicial activism becoming an equal opportunity employer -- so a big welcome to you conservative justices. Of course, you were pretty much in the activist club anyway but this makes it official.
As soon as I cleared the snow from my boots, I asked: What the heck is going on? You can't even stop and scan the horizon for a moose these days without everything shifting behind your back. No wonder Sarah Palin shoots them with such relish lest her world be disturbed.
The first and biggest shock was when Republican candidate Scott Brown claimed the late Ted Kennedy's seat in the Massachusetts Senate race last week, thus inflicting political rigor mortis on health care reform. Many theories have been advanced for this startling -- and to some of us, depressing -- turn of events.
Perhaps it was a referendum against government-sponsored health care, its cost and doubted effectiveness.
Maybe it was a reaction against a clueless Democrat, Martha Coakley, part of a dull tradition of Democratic politicians from Massachusetts such as Michael Dukakis and John Kerry -- the type of people who are called by the police to hostage scenes so that gunmen will drop their weapons out of sheer boredom.
It could have been a case of conservatives and independents coming out because they think President Barack Obama is a socialist while the lefties simultaneously stayed home because they know he isn't.
My theory is that voters wanted an ex-nude model whose daughters are available, which of course was a little joke he made to cheer up the 30 million or so people who now won't be getting health insurance. As they say, laughter is the best medicine -- and it better be, because it will be the only medicine they can afford.
All these theories may be equally valid, but that doesn't change the fact that it was weird.
The people of Massachusetts who so loved Ted Kennedy and so recently mourned him turned around and repudiated his life's work in a fit of pique. Who has words to explain the changing political winds that whip up such volatile anger that people bang their cups with their spoons as if they were prisoners of democracy?
I know just the fellow to explain it, the Irish poet W.B. Yeats, who wrote "The Second Coming" back in 1919. Consider his prophetic words which speak precisely to our confused and angry time:
"Things fall apart; the center cannot hold."
It sure as heck can't, and America's free-ranging anger is only one or two tea parties away from becoming ungovernable for whoever happens to be president, Democrat or Republican.
"Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world."
Poetry lovers, can you rhyme the word "filibuster"?
"The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned."
But enough already about the TV reality show "Jersey Shore."
"The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."
Does that definition of the worst sound like any talk show hosts we know?
And does the best sound like a certain coolly detached president? He has turned his cheek to his enemies so many times that he has run out of cheeks and still can't grasp the fact that his desire to be a post-partisan president won't work -- and what he needs to do is finally get tough, pick up the post and bash his partisan critics with it.
But what worries me more is the rest of the poem. Woe is us if that proves prophetic. Yeats had a vision of a "shape with lion body and the head of a man, a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun" -- the infamous rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouching toward Bethlehem to be born.
Yes, I know, it sounds like Rush Limbaugh. The truth is that with anger making people lash out blindly without thought for consequences, this is the hour when any rough beast can slouch toward Washington D.C., to be elected.
If it happens, I am going back to Maine to cuddle up with a corporation. I hear they are the best friends to have these days -- and such good conversationalists.
First Published January 27, 2010 12:00 am