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August 27, 2010

Lacking All Political Conviction

Roy Meachum


“The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.”

William Butler Yeats


When Irish poet Yeats first coined the words, the world was coming out of the Great War’s brutal massacres by man, guns and gas. It was 1919 – three years after Ireland’s Easter Uprising that tried and failed to oust the British overlords.


Modern America’s noises and protests make me think of the Uprising; judged by the sound level many people – still a substantial minority – want this government displaced…at all levels. Protected by the Second Amendment’s protections for gun-owners, there’s even talk of revolution; not more than talk. The fundamental problem I have with all the ranting is what would replace the Constitution?


I don’t understand, they say. They mean to take the nation back as it was in the beginnings, when the fundamental document was approved in 1789. They want to junk, as political junk, the amendments, congressional acts and court rulings that two centuries-plus brought. Which alterations, they don’t say, except to shout the “junk” resulted from political maneuvers, from both the left and the right. We’ve heard threats against the anti-slave 14th Amendment that granted all African-Americans full citizenship.


Then my wandering eye fixes on Tuesday’s primaries; together with races earlier, there is no clear message that the national majority of voters want to “kick incumbents out” – and that’s a battle cry from America’s counterpart to the Irish in the Easter Uprising.


Sen. Lisa Murkowski trails her Sarah Palin-endorsed opponent in Alaska. Supporters of challenger Joe Miller will scarcely credit Proposition Two that states doctors must notify parents before young women’s abortions; in conservative Alaska the ballot measure gained more than both candidates’ total, by 10,000 votes. The mob claims the scalps of Pennsylvania’s Sen. Arlen Specter and Utah’s Sen. Bob Bennett, both had hung around Capitol Hill a long time. Never firmly Republican, Mr. Specter switched mid-term to the other party; Democrats threw him aside. As for Mr. Bennett, the people had no say: a Republican caucus to choose primary nominees cut right past him.


Former GOP presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, will have another go this November, together with Democratic colleagues Nevada’s Harry Reid and Arkansas’ Blanche Lincoln, who overcame a darling of the new politics. There is no clear evidence the adored right-wing heroine Sarah Palin or the current president, Barack Obama, have been factors; for all the wheezing and articulated “wisdom” of the media.


“Tip” O’Neill was proven right, again. I knew the runny-eyed Massachusetts Democrat; he became House speaker while I was still reporting in Washington. He was the second most pragmatic politician I knew, behind Lyndon B. Johnson, on the Hill and in the Oval Office. Mr. O’Neill never had a chance to move down to the President’s Mansion on Pennsylvania Avenue.


“All politics is local” was the most famous phrase from the red-nosed Speaker. Being Irish-Catholic, the staunch Kennedy ally was taught by the nuns who demanded collective nouns (politics) must take a singular verb (is). (I sometimes make that mistake in quoting him; the Brothers of Holy Cross taught, but didn’t nit-pick.)


As readers know, I am among Yeats’ “best who lack conviction” – a registered Democrat who extols and frequently votes for Republicans. Whether that puts me in the Irish poet’s “best,” I cannot say. But at the least, I “lack conviction” – never grabbing the latest mode or idea.


Maybe ‘cause I’m old.


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