Reflections on a Summer Night Before the Fall
Last evening, after watching the satisfying conclusion of a Phillies game (a game that was considerably less satisfying for Washington Nationals fans), I innocently switched to the news. Big mistake. The lengthy segment on strip mining induced a drowsiness that made it impossible for me to extricate myself from the couch. Within minutes I was adrift in slumberland.
When I awoke at 2:30 in the morning and finally pulled myself to bed, there was no going back: my brain had reactivated itself and I knew I’d be awake for the duration. You must know the feeling. You can lie in bed and listen to the singing of the crickets — a pleasant late-summer diversion that begins to lose its charm after half an hour — or you can rouse yourself and make productive use of your insomnia. I opted for the latter course, and here I am.
At this moment President Obama is probably asleep in his summer villa on Martha’s Vineyard, dreaming fitfully of the Republicans who have conspired to thwart the beautiful promise of his presidency. Where did it all go, that lofty missionary zeal for hope and change? Campaigning stirred his blood and inspired soaring sentiments; governing turned out to be a joyless grind, a series of petty, soul-battering tussles with implacable opponents. There was no appeasing them, though he tried hard — too hard, his critics on the left would add — and failed. He tries to summon his inner FDR, his inner Truman, his inner LBJ… but he can’t even summon his inner Obama.
And now the nation, its wealth, its workers and its future — his future, too — appear to be slip-sliding toward some unseen void, still obscured by mist. The mist disperses, a terrifying chasm appears, and over the edge we go — down, down, down, until the president jolts himself awake, tosses restlessly for a few seconds, and settles back to sleep. No sweat. There would be games of golf and the company of liberal celebrity friends to console him in the days ahead.
Meanwhile, somewhere out on the plains, the slumbering Rick Perry dreams of glory. He’s gained the loyalty of millions who admire his thick thatch of dark hair and his craggy all-American good looks — both indispensable qualities in a prospective president. He makes the equally handsome Mitt Romney look like a department store mannequin with a bad dye job. Romney is an empty suit who will tailor his utterances to his audience of the moment; Perry ripples with the vitality of a holy warrior who can lead the faithful against the godless progressive-centrist-RINO foe. He dreams ambitious dreams.
Not even his predecessor George W. Bush, that Ivy League patrician in Texas boots, ever pulled off a coup like this one: Rick Perry, preacher-in-chief, summons Jesus Himself down from the heavens to stump on his behalf. No renegade hippie rabbi, this Republican Jesus comes down clearly on the side of lower taxes for the rich, unrestricted gun ownership, and capital punishment for mentally retarded murderers. Perry smiles serenely and hugs his pillow.
Up in Wasilla, Sarah Palin dreams of entering the race. She sees Michele Bachmann out in front, her long legs making long strides, her mane of luxuriant brown hair trailing behind her. Darn it, Sarah rages… she stole my act! That was supposed to be me up there in the lead, but the smartypants mainstream media and Tina Fey made a laughing-stock out of me. Darn it! Double darn it! Michele makes even more goofball mistakes than I ever did, and let’s face it, she needs a lot of mascara to draw attention away from that wrinkly neck of hers. I’m still the fairest in the land… fairest in the land…
Now her dream shifts to a wild landscape somewhere in the great Alaskan North. Sarah spots a prize moose that looks uncannily like Michele Bachmann (the mascara is a dead giveaway) and takes aim. She squeezes the trigger… she fires… but her once-trusty rifle emits only a little white flag that reads “TOO LATE.”
The sky grows lighter now, though the crickets are still singing. In a few hours they’ll yield to a bubbling chorus of cicadas. Late August is a climactic time of year: the great surge of spring and summer life begins to retreat; the nights are cooler and longer.
I have to wonder if America has reached the late August of its existence, poised at the brink of fall — a word that assumes an ominous shade of meaning this year as we struggle to ward off the demons of self-destruction. Fall… our fall… a fall from glory and wealth and even relevance.
But I’m growing drowsy again…. I need to drag myself back to bed and catch a few more hours of sleep. Maybe I’ll dream that we’ve slipped not over a cliff but into a warm green meadow bisected by a rippling stream. A peaceful place, graced by a chorus of birdsongs. I see groups of people gathered to the left and right of the stream… left and right…
No, not THAT dream again! I could use a break. Seriously. We all could.