June's lovely light brings us to the brink of whether our American democracy will end in tragedy or in farce. Happy endings in American history are lessons handed down as part of our birthright, starting with the midnight ride of Paul Revere. Looking round right now, the state of things isn't a story I'd like our schoolchildren to hear. As we approach the nation's 235th birthday in July, let's gather up pieces of what's going on around here.
A married Democratic congressman from New York shamed himself by sending out sexually suggestive photos to women he met on the Internet but never in person. But he's not ashamed enough to resign. Very nice.
Another Democrat, former presidential contender Johnny Edwards, a sweet-talking Southerner, deserves more than a federal court case can give him for seeking a fortune from an elderly lady for his mistress's living expenses. For many, Edwards's happy ending would be a midnight ride back in time north to the Puritan town square stocks. The Puritans hanged people for less, but shaming Johnny for his sins is the main idea. It's gone out of fashion, but sounds very nice in this sordid case. [Vote now: Should John Edwards Have Been Indicted for His Affair Coverup?]
Shame is precious and scarce in the public square. Take Sarah Palin, presidential contender as biker gal, who just visited New England herself, floundering as she explained Revere's ride. Longfellow she's not. My bloleagues have treated her take well; all I can say is the arctic Alaska air has chilled some grey matter inside her pretty head. Her scrambled take on it sounded like satire, and then she doubled down to defend her utterly novel reading of the first American Revolutionary story. Actually, colonial Americans were still "British" up until the revolution, and so it's most likely Revere delivered the warning that the "Regulars are coming out tonight"—without the "British." For the defiant Palin, ain't no such thing as wrong. [Read Roff: Sarah Palin Was Right About Paul Revere.]
But wait, things get worse. A current wave among some young women, according to The Washington Post Outlook section, is "SlutWalks," meaning they organize marches in cities, clad in very little clothing, as a way of asserting their rights to their own bodies. That is, rapists and abusers have no claim on them, no matter what they wear or don't wear. Isn't that already agreed upon? Isn't there much more to do for women collectively? How does this advance progress, and what would the suffragettes say? A woman journalist, bright and savvy, noted she supports the "girls" out on the streets. She wished them well with protesting against sexual assault. Very nice. But I wanted to lay down and cry. "Girls" says it all—namely, they are acting like girls, not serious young women, much less "new feminists." American revolutionaries made in the same mold as Revere? Honey, I don't think so.
While President Obama is doing well by most measures, the most important—high unemployment—is his Achilles' heel, and ironically, the one thing he won't talk about. In The New York Times today, a Nobel laureate in economics, Peter A. Diamond, said he's withdrawing his name from consideration for the Federal Reserve Board of Governors after a long confirmation battle in which Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby has blocked Obama's pick from coming up for a floor vote. Obama went to the scene of a disaster in Alabama recently, after a tornado in Tuscaloosa, and pledged federal government help. In the old days, there would be a bargain, a political deal struck in the name of artful compromise and getting the nation's business done. Obama is almost too cool to deal with his foes across the aisle with direct pressure and blunt confrontation with the old bulls. As it happens, Diamond is the world's expert on unemployment and the labor force. Very nice, Senator Shelby, it's amazing how much damage someone like you can do—like a force of nature. [Check out a roundup of GOP political cartoons.]
Bob Dylan, the supremely subversive and brilliant American bard, turned 70 in late May. He started singing in the taverns of Greenwich Village in 1961, when John F. Kennedy was presiding over a new chapter of the American story. Speaking strictly for me, it consoles me that he who has seen so much with eyes "bluer than robin's eggs" (Joan Baez) is still writing, singing, and performing, giving voice to the vicissitudes we've witnessed for nearly 50 years now. Yes, Dylan, even more than Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, sings to me of America.
Late add: Now we know, thanks to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, that it's against the law to dance at the tranquil Jefferson Memorial! That point has kindly been clarified, so indeed you can get (lawfully) arrested and wrestled down to the marble for doing that. Jefferson, our most complicated and more-than-meets-the-eye Founding Father, would surely pen something profound about this. The cultivated Cavalier of Virginia enjoyed his posh pleasures and pursuits more than the New Englanders of Puritan descent with whom he had to get along. So he might find the ruling a sign that our Puritan stock was winning the day in June 2011.
How wrong he would be.
Update 6/8/11: Two sides to the story of how a Nobel laureate never found his way to the Fed, so let me give each his say.
Peter A. Diamond, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and an expert on labor markets declared in a New York Times op-ed (June 6) that he'll withdraw his nomination to be on the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors in the face of staunch Republican opposition to President Obama's choice. In The Times, Diamond identified Senator Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) as "the leading opponent to my appointment." Diamond also specifically stated in the Times, "Senate Republicans blocked a floor vote on my confirmation."
Jonathan Graffeo, press secretary to Senator Shelby, said yesterday his boss did not "block or obstruct" a floor vote on the Diamond nomination. According to Graffeo, Shelby, the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, had expressed concerns about Diamond's familiarity with monetary policy and other "substantive" areas such as crisis management throughout the long confirmation process, which began last year.