A Yankee Notebook

September 7, 2015


MONTPELIER, VT – Someone – ”Expats for Sanders,” whatever that is – has during the past week posted on the Internet a photo purportedly showing a young woman congratulating Bernie Sanders face to face. “Senator,” she cries, “you have the vote of every thinking person!”

“That’s not enough, madam, “ the senator replies. “We need a majority!”

The Expats, however, failed to attribute the comment to its supposed originator, Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson. Urbane, articulate, intellectual, ironic, and self-effacing, he got my first vote, in 1956, but was, in spite of me, swamped by Dwight Eisenhower. So it goes.

The exchange is, however, appropriate for this year’s (and, I fear, next year’s, as well) Presidential nomination campaigns. The amount of blather and bloviation in each day’s news cycle would be amusing if it didn’t reveal so much about the media and their eager audiences. We’re back to the days of beating each other over the head with inflated pigs’ bladders for amusement. From candidate Huckabee declaring that he, as President, would go to jail if the demands of his job offended his conservative Christian principles, to candidate Walker recommending an impenetrable, 5500-mile-long wall between Canada and the United States (Has he ever even seen the border in, say, northern New Hampshire?), the race to the bottom seems weekly to gain momentum.

It’s nothing especially new. Only a few of us alive nowadays remember the really nasty 1828 campaign between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams. The tension was higher than usual because the previous election had been decided by a vote of Congress when no candidate had won a majority. Adams’ supporters tried a tack that’s all too familiar today – religion. Jackson’s wife, Rachel, had been divorced; but after their marriage, the Jacksons found that the divorce papers hadn’t yet been signed. After all of that was made legally copacetic, they married again. But Charles Hammond, the editor of The Cincinnati Gazette, editorialized, “Ought a convicted adulteress and her paramour husband be placed in the highest offices of this free and Christian land?” There were other attacks, as well, a few of them justified by the morals of the time. Rachel Jackson was probably deeply affected by them – especially one questioning the “purity” of her background – and collapsed and died while shopping for her inaugural ball gown.

John Quincy Adams, for his part, was pilloried for allegedly, while Minister to Russia, giving one of his female servants to the czar, who fancied her. He’d also apparently – in those days when gambling was considered a device of the Devil to ensnare honest men – used public funds to purchase “gambling devices” for the White House: a chess set and a pool table. The influences and impulses of our Puritan past were alive and well then; and though the details of our culture have since changed, appear still to be. Several of the current candidates are trying hard to “out-Christian” all the others. Candidate Huckabee has the edge at the moment; he’s announced his plan to visit the Rowan County Clerk currently in the calaboose for refusing to issue marriage licenses to couples whose claims to guaranteed equal rights offend her religious principles.

Shenanigans like these used to be restricted to the general election campaign, between candidates chosen by the party bosses in smoky executive sessions. Now we have a primary system, a two-year free-for-all in which potential candidates must attempt to appeal to the most extreme elements of their respective parties without permanently offending their moderate voters. Thus the hue and cry about illegal immigrants “stealing American jobs,” the disingenuous blanket affirmation of Second Amendment rights, and the expressions of sympathy for self-described Christians being denied their right to practice their religion. I’ll guarantee that if you’re looking for the logic in any of this, you’d best give up. It’s not there.

Example: Many people profess, on religious grounds, to believe that a fertilized human egg is a human being, invested with all the rights of citizenship; but in another breath cry for refugee children within our borders to be deported. Many, claiming belief in “the sanctity of life,” picket abortion clinics waving grisly signs, while keeping loaded weapons in their bed stands, just in case. Clearly, for them, some lives enjoy more sanctity than others, and they get to choose which.

My particular beef is with the attacks on Planned Parenthood, which has been around longer than most Congressmen have been alive. Its founding motives and principles aside, it has for decades provided health services, screening, and counseling for millions of men and women who might not otherwise have had access to them. Mother and I were required to avail ourselves of its counseling as a requisite of being married in our church. Having grown up in an evangelical atmosphere that tainted all such organizations with a musk of disreputability, I was blown off my biases by the friendly manner of the counselor who gave us the information we lacked. The beauty is that those services are still provided on a sliding scale of charges so they’re available to anyone needing them. Yet some of the current primary candidates – the ones conspicuously dragging the bottom of the pond – call for complete defunding of the organization. They do this while also voting, utterly without irony, to increase further our already bloated military budget.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the current majority leader, has recently announced – “admitted,” actually, is more like it – that his party doesn’t have the votes to block government funding for Planned Parenthood, upsetting some of his members who are champing to shut down the government again until that happens. As I said, if you’re looking for logic in any of this...

Photo by Willem lange