From the September 1995 issue of TLD


A Clutch of Nettles
By Virginia Dare


Random acts of culture


Immediately upon returning, in November, from a prolonged sojourn in the Land Beyond the Beltway — replete with deep-fried foods, vast amounts of dread Red Meat, and other pleasurable substances considered politically incorrect in more enlightened circles — I was faced with the ultimate good news/bad news joke for a commentator on today's mores: the threatened closure of select segments of the government. On the one hand, I can think of nothing more refreshing than the prospect of not being governed, and I rejoice in the hope that Slick Willie and Mr. Newt stay at loggerheads a good long time. On the other hand, despite the fact that it's becoming increasingly difficult to satirize current governmental affairs (we TLD scribblers have frequently been accused of parody when we were merely guilty of straight reporting), the shutting down of the monolithic machine threatens to cut off a sizable chunk of my inspiration.

In an attempt to overdose on madness, I spent several hours soaking up broadcast news. When I emerged, I felt a little better; there seemed to be enough going on beyond the corridors of power to keep me going for a while. Let me treat you to a few of the choicer morsels:


The general in retreat

I have been mystified for a very long time by the nostalgia for the 1950s that seems to obsess the Baby Boomer generation. My recollection of the 1950s is that they weren't bad, all things considered; but I enjoy my current life as an adult much too much to pine for the fjords of mediocrity wherein my adolescent years were frozen. The 1950s were, O Best Beloved, something that one mercifully grew out of. I seem to be alone in this conceit, however, as evidenced by the constant recycling of 1950s culture: Wyatt Earp (now played by Kevin Costner or Kurt Russell, take your pick); the Cleavers, still played by themselves (except for Ward, now defunct); and Ike (played by Colin Powell).

To this day, there probably aren't five people in the country who have a clear notion of what Powell's political views are. We didn't even find out what party he espoused until after we learned he wasn't running as its candidate. That didn't stop an enormous cross section of the country from backing those views to the utmost. On screen, the general looked intelligent, kind, thoughtful, and trustworthy. His military record was immaculate. (I have a little inside information here: an acquaintance of mine was Powell's commanding officer in Vietnam, and he tells me that young Captain Powell was a brilliant tactician and showed enormous courage under pressure.)

Powell is the candidate of the 1950s all over again: military hero, square-jawed man of few words, crisply-turned-out in uniform. He appears to have only one wife, an attractive woman not given to unseemly public spectacle. In a concession to the sensibilities of the 1990s, she dresses a lot sharper than Mamie ever did but still has a pleasing grandmotherly air about her.

Powell's announcement of his decision not to run for president was an humble and gentle admission that, while he savored every day of his 35-year military career, he was unable to summon up a passion strong enough to sustain him in a political campaign. He did not mention another reason for declining the opportunity to run, a reason which was alluded to in several newspaper accounts but never emphasized in the press: his wife had, from the beginning, expressed misgivings about the personal risks — there are just too many crazies out there who, for reasons ranging from political ideals to a pash for Jodie Foster, are willing to take up permanent residence in secure lifelong lodgings in exchange for a chance to shoot somebody important. Indeed, Powell's candidacy may have been a "collateral casualty" of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination.

Those of our countrymen who lost their Great Beige Hope when Powell stepped out of the spotlight may mourn the standard-bearer who they thought would help them return to a happier time when families could live on daddy's income and when mom's meat loaf was a comfort food. As things stand, they can still believe that a great hero will emerge in our darkest hour to return the country to glory (I've always loved the Arthurian myth), even though Dad's income barely covers the charge-card payments anymore, and Mom brings meat loaf home from Boston's on the way back from aerobics class.


United We Stand

The United Way Campaign is in full cry again. Who can resist those TV spots crammed with wistful children cuddling stuffed bunnies, sweet little old ladies knitting shapeless garments for their grandchildren, kindly doctors dispensing advice to new mothers? The campaign organizers even have a little chart showing how much your payroll deduction should be, scaled to your income. All you have to do is sign a form and your hard-earned cash will be whisked away to do good in organizations such as:

The African Heritage Dancers and Drummers
The American Indian Inter-Tribal Cultural Organization
B'nai B'rith Women, Inc.
The Center for Divorcing Families, Inc.
The Center for Multicultural Human Services
Deafpride, Inc.
The Ethiopian Community Development Council, Inc.
Friends of the Sierra Leone Peoples Organization
Islamic-American Zakat Foundation
The Malcom X Cultural Education Center
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
The National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides
NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund
The Rainforest Alliance
The Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League

Warms the cockles of your heart, doesn't it? The average citizen contributing to the United Way can support any number of causes that are dedicated to propagandizing our young, undermining our economy, and shredding our moral fabric. I love this year's slogan, too: Caring About What You Care About. Yeah, boah.


From gulags to goulash in 10 years

The citizens of Hungary, newly freed from the Red Menace, are threatened by a new peril. This dreadful health scourge, which will wreak more damage than Soviet tanks ever could, is (timid souls cover your ears until further notice) fatty foods and cigarettes. Traditional fatty foods, I hasten to add, not any evil substances that have crept across the borders with the influx of capitalism. And the same cigarettes that Central Europeans have always consumed, in pretty much the same quantities. Could it be that these substances become deadly only when combined with the toxic fumes of liberal do-gooder evangelism?

The odd thing about this news flash was that it was couched in the future tense. The Hungarians are eating and smoking the same quantities of the same stuff that they have for years, but their death rates are predicted to increase. Convinced that I'd missed a major element of the story, I stayed up to hear a repeat of it in a later broadcast. But no, my ears had not deceived me. Blessed with greater access to free-world technological developments such as vitamin-fortified foodstuffs, early childhood immunizations, labor-saving household appliances, and better medical care, Hungarians are predicted to start dropping like flies over the next 30 years.

Since freedom is so obviously hazardous to our health, I suppose we should all rejoice that, as the years pass, we seem destined to enjoy less and less of it.

As you see, it looks as if I'll be able to keep soldiering along despite the unreliability of one of my greatest sources of inspiration.


All things considered, it's rather comforting to know that so many government "services" were suspended during the executive-legislative snits. It's particularly warming to learn that the government has a whole roster of services that it admits are nonessential. (Catch a clue, guys.) But a nice long shutdown probably isn't in the cards: the stalkers in the corridors of power have to be terrified that we may find out how well we can get along without them.

Virginia Dare writes from the Old Dominion, where she provides an absolutely essential service for TLD and its readers.

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