History and the Really Very Weird
Back when he was vice president, Dan Quayle noted that: “People that are really very weird can get into sensitive positions and have tremendous impact on history.”
He was right, as the Germans know, even if his own impact was limited by the fact the president he was understudying for stayed alive.
Quayle’s words came back to me because, like a lot Americans, I’ve come down with Palinitis: the acute fear that Sarah Palin might get into one of those “sensitive positions.”
This is no ordinary moment. More than two trillion dollars have disappeared from Americans’ retirement accounts. The hedge-fund high priests of the universe have suspended their Warhol purchases. Iceland, de-banked, has gone back to fishing (if there are any fish left). On the next president will hinge the choice between recession, with a small “r,” and Depression, with a big “D.”
It’s not a time, in history’s great sweep, for Quayle’s very weird people to run the world. Tremendous might prove an inadequate description of their impact. What we need is a safe pair of hands. Or we’ll all be fishing.
Then I pulled into Peculiar.
I’d decided to go for a spin around Missouri because this bellwether, battleground state has voted for the winner in every election since 1904, with the sole exception of 1956. In many respects, it is America miniaturized.
Of its more than 100 rural counties, all but one voted Republican in 2004. But its big cities, St. Louis and Kansas City, are another story, trending heavily Democrat. Rural, Bible-belt, America-first Missouri tends to views St. Louis as the fallen East Coast.
The growing number of conservative, Evangelical voters led John Kerry to abandon campaigning here four years ago; he lost heavily to President Bush. In Peculiar (motto “Where the ‘Odds’ are with you”), Democrats are rare. Cass County, where it’s located, voted 61.6 percent Bush.
There’s not a lot to Peculiar, a smattering of low-slung buildings off Highway 71 in western Missouri. At a general store, I asked about the name and a woman told me: “When they incorporated the town, they tried a few names, but those already existed, and somebody wrote back saying we should try something more ‘peculiar.’ And, son, we did.”
End of story.
Or not quite: America’s become a place where Peculiar folks think the city folks have lost the plot and city folks think the rural folks are peculiar.
In this culture war, where Palin’s hockey moms and Joe Sixpacks are supposed to be the only patriots left standing, believing in a woman’s right to choose gets cast as unpatriotic. (Remember: belief in regulating markets used to be unpatriotic too.)
I pulled out of Peculiar, passed a sign saying “Nothing’s hard for God,” cranked up the radio and got the Eagles: “And I wanna sleep with you/ In the desert tonight/ With a billion stars all around/ Cause I got a peaceful easy feeling/And I know you won’t let me down ...”
Man, that felt good: a peaceful easy feeling is not something I’ve had about the U.S. in a while. But around Humansville (I didn’t ask), a country music station brought me this: “I’m just a common man/ Drive a common van/ And my dog ain’t got no pedigree/ I’m just happy to be free/ Way I wanna be/ Because highbrow people lose their saniteeee ...”
That did it. Not wishing to lose mine, I asked Kenneth Warren, a professor of political science at St. Louis University, how Missouri’s battle of the Republican common man and the Democratic highbrow crowd was going since the Dow dived and the Bush presidency began its final descent into flames.
“There’s strong movement in Obama’s direction,” he said. “He was trailing by 10 points in August, and now two polls show him ahead. You’ve got a perfect storm for him. With the financial collapse, the Republican White House gets blamed. McCain’s looking rattled and disconnected on the economy. And Palin’s become a liability because she doesn’t look qualified for a crisis.”
In Branson, in southern Missouri, I met Gail Hinshaw, a business executive. He told me he’s an independent who’s “leaned Republican.” But, he said, “I’m an orthodox Republican, not big on big government, and who’s spent more or grown government more than this president?”
Hinshaw said no person has all the answers. So he’s looking for someone who can pull people together. It’s time, he said, to paint or get off the ladder. He senses movement toward Obama as independents like him decide. “We got to do something different.”
Missouri’s still a toss-up. But if the Hinshaw drift continues in Republican areas and Obama wins the state, he’ll likely be elected president by a landslide. Compared to Missouri, most other battleground states look more comfortable for him.
I’m starting to believe in a Republican bloodbath. You can’t fool all the people all the time. As Quayle noted, “The future will be better tomorrow.”
Link to article: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/13/opinion/13cohen.html