New England, The Devil and P.J. O’Rourke
There are a couple of considerations, and I might as well start with the first: on June 1, of 1974, thirty-three years ago, I was married for the first time, in a profoundly American setting.
My wife-to-be’s father had purchased a house on the western outskirts of Sudbury, Massachusetts, that had been the Wayside Inn’s keeper’s home. There was a sign on the front lawn, on the Boston Post Road (created when Benjamin Franklin was the Royal Postmaster General of the colonies) that read: ‘Longfellow’s Wayside Inn 1000 feet.’
This was often missed by drivers looking for the venerable tavern that Longfellow composed his ‘Midnight Ride of Paul Revere’ poem in -- at least it was the star poem in Longfellow’s TALES FROM A WAYSIDE INN. George would be out front, mowing the grass, and somebody would drive into the circular drive, pop the trunk and say: ‘Get our bags.’
And, often, he would take their bags and put them up on the porch, so that when they walked a ways into the house, and realized that they’d invaded someone’s home, they would have to put their trunks BACK into their trunks in the most sheepish and embarrassed manner possible.
And it was funny as hell.
In 1974, the Bicentennial was well under way, and so was Watergate. Nixon would resign that summer, and every car in Massachusetts had a bumper sticker reading: ‘DON’T BLAME ME, I’M FROM MASSACHUSETTS’ referring to the 1972 election in which George McGovern carried only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia against Richard M. Nixon.
It was a strange clash of cultures.
But on that day, we were married in the Wayside Innkeeper’s house, with her uncle presiding over the clerisy's festivities. He was a Congregationalist minister: the denominiation which the New England Puritans became, going back to Cotton Mather and the Boston that young Ben Franklin found so oppressive that he ran away to Philadelphia when he was sixteen.
... the church and religious culture of the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony formed the basis of post-colonial American Congregationalism, specifically the Congregational Church proper. The term Puritan was used by the group itself mainly in the 16th century, though it seems to have been used often and, in its earliest recorded instances, as a term of abuse. By the middle of the 17th century, the group had become so divided that "Puritan" was most often used by opponents and detractors of the group, rather than by the practitioners themselves.-Wikipedia
Later, the adult Benjamin Franklin would build the road that the house was built on, and would lend his name to my great-great grandfather, the Civil War veteran, Benjamin Franklin Williams (who served with his brother, George Washington Williams).
There was a connection to Washington at that wedding, too: my bride carried a piece of Martha Washington’s wedding dress, a family heirloom, passed down through the Custis line (George and Martha Washington had no children).
There was even the traditional photographic portrait of the bride in The Boston Globe section devoted to that sort of thing. (The groom, as I recall, was unworthy of photographic preservation, but was accorded copy as befitting his essentially cameo role in the production. There is nothing so useless at a wedding as the groom, I have come to learn. Were it not necessary that he be present for the ceremony, American weddings would undoubtedly benefit greatly by his absence.)
Which gave me plenty of time to consider the historic overtones of the wedding that was taking place amidst the historical pageant that is suburban Revolutionary Boston.
And, aside from the traditional overtones of marriage, there was a profound and moving echo of American Revolutionary War history surrounding it. And, of New England history. Thoreau once wrote (ever the booster of causes, in this case, the cause of Oregon Territory emigration):
"Eastward I go only by force; but westward I go free. It is hard for me to believe that I shall find fair landscapes or sufficient wildness and freedom behind the eastern horizon. I am not excited by the prospect of a walk thither; but I believe that the forest which I see in the western horizon stretches uninterruptedly toward the setting sun, and there are no towns nor cities in it of enough consequence to disturb me. Let me live where I will, on this side is the city, on that the wilderness, and ever I am leaving the city more and more, and withdrawing into the wilderness.... I must walk toward Oregon, and not toward Europe."
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), U.S. philosopher, author, naturalist. "Walking" (1862), in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, vol. 5, pp. 217-218, Houghton Mifflin (1906).
I took his advice then, and do not regret it now.
Two miles away were Lexington and Concord, and Sudbury Minutemen had shown up for the confrontation on the Lexington green. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau had lived in Concord, and we made the obligatory pilgrimages to their graves, and to Walden ‘Pond’ -- which proved to me that while it took a lot to be a lake or a river in the East, any bump was a mountain. The other end of the proof was seeing the Catskill 'Mountains', in upper New York. I kept asking, 'Are they behind that hill?')
On the other hand, Walden Pond would be Walden Lake anywhere west of the Mississippi, while it takes a lot to be a mountain, and not just a hill. Any seasonally running ditch, out here, is a river. Any pond, filled or not, is a ‘lake.’ Kinda depends on where you live, I guess.
Thoreau also said this:
"Do we call this the land of the free? What is it to be free from King George and continue the slaves of King Prejudice? What is it to be born free and not to live free? What is the value of any political freedom, but as a means to moral freedom? Is it a freedom to be slaves, or a freedom to be free, of which we boast?"I remember the Old Manse, which Emerson had lived in, but rented out, for a time, to Hawthorne, and how Hawthorne’s wife had scratched the birth dates of her children into the poured glass panes with her diamond ring. The Wayside Innkeeper’s house had that kind of glass, too, and something called ‘Indian shutters,’ which could be shut to protect the glass windows, but were slit-cut, so that you could fire your musket out the seemingly ‘decorative’ cruciform pattern.
The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, vol. 4, pp. 476-477, Houghton Mifflin (1906).
The whole area had been a Henry Ford project sometime earlier in the century, and he had replenished or refurbished several places in the neighborhood, including bringing the famous ‘Little Red Schoolhouse’ to rest in the meadow that the Wayside Inn sits in. Within walking distance was the ‘Grist Mill’ star of innumerable postcards and travel brochures.
We went horseback riding, and there was an old dam Henry had refurbished. There were various grandfathered-in clauses in everyone’s purchase agreement to keep this bit of New England ever-New Englandy.
We stumbled, in Concord, while scouting for a honeymoon spot before the wedding, on a Revolutionary War re-enactment that clogged the city with cars and blocked streets for several hours. One of a thousand such events in Bicentennial New England.
Hell, Sudbury's zip code was 01776 -- which both Lexington AND Concord felt, by rights, should be their own. (I think they were 01774 and 01775 respectively).
And I have always carried that strange echo of the Revolution with me, through these 33 years. The marriage is long gone and all but forgotten, but the wedding remains with me.
It was all very New Englandy, even if Golden Earring’s ‘Radar Love’ was playing on every radio station in every car that I drove that summer.
Oh, and ‘Ricky Don’t Lose That Number,’ by Steely Dan. Mostly I listened to music that I purchased at the local record stores, and that summer, it was King Crimson, beginning with Starless and Bible Black:
Cigarettes, ice cream, figurinesAnd, in that spirit, I must tell you what King George’s men have been up to the past several weeks.
of the Virgin Mary ...
- ‘The Great Deceiver,’ Richard Palmer-James
P.J. O’Rourke went to Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just down the Boston Post Road from the Innkeeper’s house, and made his fame with the NATIONAL LAMPOON of the 1970s. Since then, he’s crafted a literary career that caters to the Right Wing, and attempts to create ‘humor’ for that famously humorless slice of the American electorate. On Bill Maher’s last REAL TIME show of the ‘season’ (whatever that means anymore) he had on O’Rourke and Ben Affleck without third party guests.
In a nod to Maher’s continuing influentiality, Michael Moore chose Maher for the first interview since 2004 and ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ - the documentary notable for noted American author and dumbass Ray Bradbury thinking that he held copyright to the title, even though he ought to have known that titles can’t be copyrighted, and that he doesn’t even hold copyright to ‘Fahrenheit 451’ (the temperature at which paper burns for a book about book burning). No one knows whether Bradbury also feels that he holds copyright over the combustive phenomenon itself.
O’Rourke is from Toledo, Ohio, and looks like he was the class geek, to be sure, but he DID, in fact receive an education and cannot pretend that he is a dumbass, however convenient that might be in the Republican dumbass circles in which he now moves.
I bring this up only to preempt any suggestion that O’Rourke was unaware of what he was doing, or that he was so unskilled at argumentation that he inadvertently fell into fallacy.
No, friends. He MEANT to do what he did, and, perhaps, that’s also a nod to the influentialitinessitude of Maher’s HBO show.
What O’Rourke did was to INTENTIONALLY derail discussion to derail as much criticism of the Bush regime as possible. And to put as much daylight between himself and the sinking ship as possible -- following the lead of Frank Luntz, as reported here. (‘An Elephant Always Forgets’).
The first and best example of which was Bill Maher bringing up Ron Paul’s comment at the GOP debate (otherwise known as the Macho-Beatchu smarm summit) that our foreign policy had something to do with why people wanted to hijack planes and suicidally attack us ... e.g. 9-11.
O’Rourke seized the bull by the balls and twisted: ‘I can sum it up in one word -- these Ay-rabs all hate Israel ... and WE SUPPORT ISRAEL!’
O’Rourke then tried for a double with: ‘And I FOR ONE THINK THAT SUPPORTING ISRAEL IS A DAMN FINE THING TO DO!’
Well, who the hell is going to argue with that?
Except that O’Rourke had jerked the topic off the table. Now it was going to be about how much do you support Israel, etc. Perfect setup for a gazillion talking points, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.
The original point (which Ron Paul appeared to explain himself) was that our actions (like setting up the Shaw in Iran after deposing the democratically elected government in the 1950s, via coup) have consequences. The 'Israel' argument was a red herring, but, worse, an INTENTIONAL red herring.
Maher did manage to get things aimed back at the topic, but not before O’Rourke had revealed his pattern for the evening: distort the dialogue, go for the cheap applause, wrap yourself in the bloody flag (in this case, whichever flag is most convenient, i.e. Israel) and for Gawd’s sake, keep that railroad off the tracks.
I watched the rerun of Jon Stewart’s interview with the Bush Education Texas Chick (think of a less grotesque version of Karen Hughes), and was struck by how much the same tactic was used. There was no intention of engaging in debate. Just get the talking points out there, and ACT like you’re a good sport when they laugh at your ‘Commander Guy’s’ endless litany of screw-ups, foul-ups, bloopers and other capital crimes.
Which means that they hold us in utter contempt, chillun. When you decide to treat your fellow citizens as ribbon clerks, or children to be mollified by shiny objects, it bespeaks your contempt for anything that they have to say -- in advance of their saying it.
And when you cannot debate, sooner or later, the differences of opinion will be settled with the gun and with steel.
I have to answer one of O’Rourke’s many slithery, slipperies here, though.
Bill Maher began to make a point about this ‘War’ not being a war at all, and O’Rourke immediately chimed in with ... like the WAR ON POVERTY of Democrat Lyndon Johnson? Haw! Haw! Haw!
Ben Affleck neatly trumped him with ‘or like the WAR on DRUGS’? and the audience responded with wild applause.
But the damage had already been done: The ‘War on Poverty’ of the Great Society was actually VERY successful, as the Harvard-educated O’Rourke well knows. But he lied to make his point, and it was glossed over, because, frankly, who could possibly expect comedian Bill Maher and actor/screenwriter Ben Affleck to be up on the intricacies of the Johnson Administration, forty years ago? Wikipedia:
... In the decade following the 1964 introduction of the war on poverty, poverty rates in the U.S. dropped to 11.1% and have remained between 11 and 15% ever since. Since 1973 poverty has remained well below the historical U.S. averages in the range of 20-25%.Not quite the laughing stock that the Harvard-educated liar, P.J. O’Rourke, would have you believe.
Poverty among Americans between ages 18-64 has fallen only marginally since 1966, from 10.5% then to 10.1% today. Poverty has significantly fallen among Americans under 18 years old from 23% in 1964 to 16.3% today. The most dramatic decrease in poverty was among Americans over 65, which fell from 28.5% in 1966 to 10.1% today...
The O[ffice of] E[conomic] O[pportunity] was dismantled by President Nixon in 1973, though many of the agency's programs were transferred to other government agencies.
But that is their intentional modus operandi: twist and distort the truth, because the truth is your enemy. And the people who speak it are your enemies as well. Confuse and deceive them. Now, WHO (or WHAT) does that sound like? A little hint for you and for P.J.:
In the night he's a star in the Milky WayNow, thanks to Nixon, Reagan, Bush and Bush, it’s the ‘War on the Impoverished.’
He's a man of the world by the light of day
A golden smile and a proposition
And the breath of God smells of sweet sedition
Sing hymns make love get high fall dead
He'll bring his perfume to your bed
He'll charm your life 'til the cold winds blow
Then he'll sell your dreams to a picture show
Cigarettes, ice cream, figurines of the Virgin Mary
Cigarettes, ice cream, figurines of the Virgin Mary
Cadillacs, blue jeans, dixieland playing on the ferry
Cadillacs, blues jeans, drop a glass full of antique sherry
- ‘The Great Deceiver,’ lyrics by Richard Palmer-James
from the King Crimson album ‘Starless and Bible Black’ 1974