What began last August, when Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton came here as the leading Democratic presidential candidate to raise money and woo Vineyard voters, has since deteriorated into an unseemly and tedious slugfest that does no credit to her party’s selection process. Indeed, her rejection by every one of the Island’s six towns, and the subsequent elevation of Sen. Barack Obama to the party’s choice as the nominee-in waiting — at least as these words are written on the deck of a Chilmark house — does nothing to give the public a respite from an overlong, tiresome and obscenely expensive political donnybrook.
Though it may be so that it was the Camelot punch, thrown by Caroline and Ted Kennedy, that decked Hillary on Super Tuesday (and began her subsequent decline in the delegate count), one should remember that the know-it-all prophets and pundits who declared Sen. John McCain’s quest for the GOP prize dead in the stagnant political backwaters last summer, still suffer the aftertaste of warmed-up crow. The same know-alls who now count Hillary out may not have the party superdelegate count right, or forget the staged kiss-and-make-up photo-ops of the candidate and the rejected candidate just before or during convention time.
My concentration was stayed as a squabble arose beneath the birdfeeder. A mourning dove and a grackle were vying for seed droppings below the feeder. The dove’s white-spotted tail flapped in protest as the grackle emitted a chuckle-chuckle, as his seed-snitching ability outnumbered hers. A watchful cardinal perched above the fray, at the elbow of a beetlebung. His robust cheer-cheers encouraged the dove and grackle to expend more acquisitive energy mouthing seeds, while he conserved his reserve for the main event. It requires no political junkie to name the birds‚ human counterparts.
Coincidentally, I had been researching the literary nugget Objective Correlative, as defined by T.S. Eliot in a 1919 essay Hamlet and his Problems. Always an open-minded free-associated nosy, I speculated upon what the St. Louis native would have written of our quaint political ways, had he remained at home, instead of contracting an idolatry virus, Anglophilia.
April is the cruelest month, sowing
Seeds for Hillary’s Inaugural roses,
While the Rev. Wright inspires Barack’s myriad poses:
Then John and George loiter outside White House
Gates, singing Hapless Days are Here Again,
As Bill and Chelsea wave from porch domain,
Bellowing, Nice to be back home again,
While Maternal Chef, in her office mixes,
All her promised elixir fixers.
Beyond any poet’s ken lies the debris left in the wake of three AWOL senators, crisscrossing the country plotting their way toward the White House — a spectacle aided, abetted and co-produced by the mainstream media, notably television. Despite all their avowals to repair our faltering economy, rehabilitate our debilitated dollar, provide universal health care and solve the Iraq enigma, there are two little words that tarnish their credibility.
The “I,” as in “I will” and the “My,” as in “My plan” emasculates promises made by the next Oval Office tenant. It is the absent “We” word that is essential for the wheel of government to move, thus allowing the President to fulfill (at least) some campaign promises. Without substantial congressional support, all the “I wills” and “My-plans,” however many times spoken, lack the breath of reality. With human hands building the ship of state and guiding it, we the people who supply the motive power are easy marks for facile-talking pie-in-the-sky politicos. Past and present events (at home and abroad) demonstrate that our captain in the wheelhouse is apt to steer us into the eye of the storm rather than chart a course to safe anchorage. Let us banish great expectations naively invested in today’s presidential candidates. Turn off the media overkill of rebroadcasting ad nauseam every candidate’s every word, every folly, every pundit and soothsayer’s blathering. Visit your local library. Take refuge in a few good books.
My own sojourn among the books put me in touch with two American icons, two Henrys — Thoreau and Mencken.
“Politics is the gizzard of society,” Thoreau tells us, “full of grit and gravel and the two political parties are its two opposite halves which grind on each other. Not only on individuals, but states have thus confirmed dyspepsia.”
Mr. Mencken’s previews of future presidential politics and the course of the presidency were published in the Baltimore Sun, on July 26, 1920. “All the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre,” he writes, “the man who can most easily [and] adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The presidency tends to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
The birds under that Chilmark feeder brought to mind London birds flitting about my bench in Kensington Gardens. The newspaper I was reading recounted Margaret Thatcher’s victory over Prime Minister James Callaghan. It was May, 1979. My notes of that campaign live in a folder labeled The Three-Week Campaign. That’s how long it took the British to change tenants at 10 Downing Street 29 years ago.
Why didn’t our founding fathers adopt the parliamentary machinery of governance when they took away so many other worthy goods from the mother country’s storehouse.
Richard Kepler Brunner is a longtime seasonal visitor to the Vineyard. A retired editorial page editor of a Times-Mirror newspaper, he lives in Emmaus, Pa., and contributes occasional commentary pieces to the Gazette.