Rebellion can be good for the soul

Posted July 09, 2010, at 5:44 p.m.

I ran into an old friend at the annual Fourth of July parade this past Sunday, and while we were waiting for the show to get under way we talked of many things, solving a goodly portion of the country’s problems in the process.

We spent the requisite amount of time discussing the weather, as Mainers are inclined to do whenever two or more gather, and talked about the finer points of bringing in the early hay crop, the horrendous Gulf of Mexico oil spill and how well the Boston Red Sox are doing, despite nearly half of the guys on the team roster being laid up with injuries and unable to play.

When the talk turned to politics, as it invariably does in this summer of our national discontent, my friend explained his new scorched-earth policy toward all incumbent office holders, at all levels of government, in all future elections. It calls for sending every last one of them packing, replacing them with their challengers. “If you’re in, you’re out. If you’re out, you’re in,’’ will be his guiding principle in marking his ballot in the voting booth from now on, he promised.

Displeased voters have turned out incumbents in both major political parties in several jurisdictions this year. Considering that fact, and the confident predictions of pundits in print and on the cable television shout shows that many more incumbents will get fired in the Nov. 2 midterm elections, the “if-you’re-in-you’re-out’’ approach may be catching on nationally.

“I hold it that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the practical world as storms in the physical,’’ Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to James Madison in January 1787.

A little rebellion is what seems to be brewing in Grassrootsville at the moment — the growing populist Tea Party movement involving disgruntled citizens being a prime example, although not the only one. Whether the gathering storm will result simply in what amounts to a rearrangement of the deck chairs on the Titanic come November, or whether it will clear the air by sweeping out of office enough deadwood to jump-start Congress out of its current partisan-fueled malaise, is anyone’s guess.

The “out’’ party traditionally makes gains in a midterm election, so Democrats, with majorities in both houses of Congress, figure to lose some seats. As well, polls show that independent voters, who strongly supported liberal Democrat Barack Obama and his promise of “change you can believe in’’ in the 2008 presidential election, are bailing out in droves — 60-plus percent of them now viewing his presidency in a negative light.

Republicans hope the disenchantment of unenrolled voters with the Obama administration will translate into votes for their congressional candidates, help the Grand Old Party regain control of the House of Representatives and weaken the Democrats’ strong hold on the Senate. But that may be easier said than done. Who can be certain in these snarky times that some sort of spectacular eleventh-hour crisis, real or manufactured — the feared “October Surprise’’ that is the bane of all politicians — won’t materialize to thwart Republicans’ anticipated resurgence?

America’s increasing annoyance with politicians at the national level — regardless of party affiliation — appears to mirror that of 1926, as described by the late Baltimore Sun political columnist H.L. Mencken in a piece included in “A Second Mencken Chrestomathy,’’ published in 1994 by Vintage Books.

A politician, Mencken wrote, in part, “is a man who has lied and dissembled, and a man who has crawled. He knows the taste of the boot-polish. He has suffered kicks in the tonneau [seat] of his pantaloons. He has taken orders from his superiors in knavery and he has wooed and flattered his inferiors in sense. His public life is an endless series of evasions and false pretenses. He is willing to embrace any issue, however idiotic, that will get him votes, and he is willing to sacrifice any principle, however sound, that will lose them for him …”

A harsh assessment, indeed. But those were harsh times. As are these.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at olddawg@bangordailynews.com.

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