My Favorite States

Give me Wisconsin, California, Vermont, or Massachusetts any time.

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All states are not created equal, as written somewhere in the Constitution. As promised, it's only fair to single out some states for praise after last week's essay proved popular among the Southern gentlemen we hear so much about.

Wisconsin, California, Vermont, and Massachusetts are dear to a liberal's heart. Less obviously, I am fond of Arkansas and Tennessee as well.

Wisconsin is where one can revel in the glories of Lake Mendota, the outstanding public education and university system, and the sheer pleasure of dairy-fresh ice cream on the terrace of the Memorial Union at the University of Wisconsin in the state capital of Madison. 

Frank Lloyd Wright, a native son, designed the sparkling Convention Center on the nearby shores of Lake Monona (built decades after he died). "Mad City" is the home to the Progressive Party early in the 20th century, which produced at least one luminary. Ever hear of Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin? John F. Kennedy served on a committee that ranked LaFollette as one of the best senators in history, for a portrait outside the Senate chamber. The campus also has a statue of Abraham Lincoln, which has greeted generations of students as they walked up the hill to Bascom Hall. In the late '60s, this campus was a teeming center for the anti-Vietnam war movement--something that will always be remembered. Blue-green Madison has a high IQ and a low EQ (ego quotient). With its high concentration of professors, doctors, grad students, and undergraduates, it's lively, smart, unspoiled--a state that makes you "glad to be alive."

California deserves to be remembered for what it was not so long ago--also an enchanting piece of paradise, with a public university system the envy of the nation and a prospering middle class. The confidence to be creative with moving pictures in a box. The horizon it gave for anyone to shoot for back in the small towns of America.

Now what? It's splitting at the seams, broke and begging, the promise and the dream on furlough. Its circulation system--the freeways are clogged as ancient arteries. A Republican governor--one of history's rhymes--presides over its demise. Its public "proposition" form of democracy may be held responsible, but the results are clear for anyone to see. "As California goes," let that be a cautionary tale. Like Wisconsin, California has two Jewish senators; I believe they are the only states that do.

Massachusetts and Vermont are states that reliably do the right thing--not always, but usually. Even if you are not a New Englander, they make you feel at home. Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket are islands off Massachusetts. The late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy loved to sail across the sound to those places in the distance off Cape Cod.  

Kennedy, who died a year ago this month, left a legacy of social legislation that stands unequaled. New England (except for New Hampshire) generally has a fair-minded heart and soul--if not the roar. That has gone quiet now.

In Arkansas and Tennessee, I met exceptionally friendly people, black and white. They showed me their towns with pride. In Memphis by the mighty Mississippi, they spoke of "Martin" and "Elvis" as if they were alive, right around the corner. In Little Rock, of course, it was "Bill," who everyone appeared to know. In Nashville, new songs seemed to blossom out of the ether every day. As a woman explained, "It's because Nashville is the Athens of the South."

The states of the Union are not all bad--or good. Much depends upon the people living in them. We the people.

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