The President, in his speech today said this:
Let me close with a word to the people of the state of Texas. (Applause.) We have known each other the longest, and you started me on this journey. On the open plains of Texas, I first learned the character of our country: sturdy and honest, and as hopeful as the break of day. I will always be grateful to the good people of my state. And whatever the road that lies ahead, that road will take me home.
Jonah Goldberg responded Texas, Schmexas:
Folks, I have nothing against thanking Texas. I thought that was right and good. Heck I like Texas (one of the best summers of my childhood was spent in Temple, Texas). But I thought it was a weird way to end the speech. It just struck me as a discordant note to strike when you’re trying to be a uniter of the whole United States.
I disagreed and sent Goldberg (pretty much) the following:
Bush said no matter where the road takes him, it leads to home. He is saying, when this is over, I’m done, I’m going HOME. He is signaling that politics is not everything, that he HAS A LIFE. He is telling us he is a real person from a real place, for whom Washington is not the center of the universe, for whom Washington is a place of business that you leave when you are done.
You are wrong that the invocation of Texas was somehow not consistent with “trying to be a uniter of the whole United States.”
Any universal appeal which is effective cannot come from speaking in generalities. Universal appeals, in politics or in art or literature, arise from invoking the specific. If I say, “family values” that might not mean much. But if I say “Laura is the love of my life” and I act like that is true, I don’t need to talk about family values too much. If I love my home, I can be trusted to defend the Homeland. Because the Homeland is not an abstraction, it is a real place. Bush is saying Texas is my home, it’s my state, where my ranch is, my land, my neighbors, my garage with my truck and my tools in it. That’s what I’m defending. And everybody has something like that, their own specific place. Bush knows it, and he doesn’t pretend to be some Godlike being above it all. It is sincere and it is effective for that reason.
Kerry could not have sent that signal because he doesn’t feel it or live it or understand it. He could not talk about Massachusetts this way, even though there are people from there who could, like my family. Kerry talks in generalities because he is alone and comes from nowhere and lives among servants and lackeys in hotel rooms. Kerry is the classic rootless cosmopolitan, and that is a sad defect in him personally and a political weakness as well.
Blood-and-dirt love for and loyalty to America is something a majority of people in this country have. And it is based on particular backyards, particular neighborhoods, or particular stretches of open road. Bush has this and conveys it by his demeanor, and by reference to specific things. I was a little too tough on Kerry, maybe. But he seems not to have this feeling in his bones. This dichotomy is real, and it is a source of strength for Bush. In fact, in his concession speech Kerry talked about how he got to know America for the first time running for President. Better late than never.
12 thoughts on “Bush Knows That Home is a Place Not an Idea”
Well said, Lex. I was very struck by “the road that will take me home” line. Succint and simple, but to me it embodied everything that you elaborated upon here.
And if you’ve ever live in Tejas, you will know that Texans love being Texans. It’s part of growing up there. You learn about the Alamo, Sam Houston, and how a bunch of scrappy settlers routed Santa Anna at San Jacinto. It’s a parallel of Lexington & Concord. You learn to take pride in The Republic of Texas and how it embodies all that is good and right about America: independence, and the willingness to fight and die for what you believe in. Waxing sentimental, but it is what it is.
Yes. A sense of place is a core part of many of us – and perhaps more so when the place is big sky country with flat lands reaching distant horizons. You have to come to terms with that proportion – and it is different than rolling hills or city streets. (I tend to tear up when I see a 14-county license plate and only on the off chance that someone from Adams Co. reads this will anyone understand that.)
(And yes, I always felt Kerry had some of the tendencies of the Henry James’ villains–the rootless, displaced Americans who no longer belonged there and didn’t really belong in Europe either. But, of course, I no longer want to criticize him. Today he did the right thing – one I can’t see Osmond doing.)
Willa Cather argued: “Let your fiction grow out of the land beneath your feet.” And it was only when he went back home and knew how much he knew and loved about place that Faulkner found his voice, that he became the powerful voice of place (and of everything else).
I know some people don’t feel that; that is fine, though there is always something I don’t understand about them and they don’t about me. I see Bush feels it and I know he is grounded and I feel like I understand him, that I can trust him.
Some think that limits a person – to identify strongly with a geographic region. Maybe it does. But I’ve always felt that you can’t reach out to others very well if you don’t feel securely rooted yourself. And I think that rootedness is what has made him secure enough to take risks. (Maybe those risks won’t turn out well, but that isn’t because he is rooted. I think – or at least hope – they will move us into the 21st century. If I’m right then I suspect his “rootedness” has given him the strength he needed.)
And, yes, Texans do connect with the land and the history and the myth in a powerful way.
And whatever the road that lies ahead, that road will take me home.
When I heard the President say these words today they struck a melancholy chord with me. They came after he had mentioned that this would be his last campaign and seemed to me an acknowledgement of the temporal nature of his victory.
I think this is why Bush understands how Jews feel about Israel.
MB’s point is lovely – and true.
“Blood-and-dirt love for and loyalty to America is something a majority of people in this country have. And it is based on particular backyards, particular neighborhoods, or particular stretches of open road.”
Is that true? And if so, is it a good thing? American was built by people that left their particular homes for good, and pulled themselves and their families up among strangers. Some of them put down roots where they landed, others kept on moving for most of their lives, but all of them were committed to embracing and defending the idea of America just as much, if not more than, a particular spot in this great land of ours.
The classic rootless cosmopolitan is nothing more than an extreme example of this. He’ll comfortably call home anyplace on Earth that embodies his ideals, and I wouldn’t call that a “defect” unless there was some defect in the ideals that motivate his choice of homes – a perfectly valid charge against Kerry (because, after all, it’s those same ideals that will motivate his choices in governance), but not against all members of the species.
The other extreme includes all the people that ever fought for their homelands – on the wrong side. They fought just as bravely as anyone else, but they were fighting exclusively for “blod-and-dirt love” and not at all for an ideal, and their efforts furthered the plans of men motivated by bad ideals. (Of course some of those were deliberately fighting for a bad ideal, and we’ll never know the precise numbers of either group…)
All emotions have base and noble manifestations, Ken, and arguing about whether the human love for the dirt under one’s feet is good or bad is like arguing whether love for one’s children or kin is good or bad. It simply is. Would you argue that such love is bad because it’s an impediment to people’s extending justice, kindness, and fairness to non-kin? It surely is, but only addled extremists think familial love is an evil to be expunged.
Human beings live and die for ideals, but nonetheless are flesh and blood, and have passionate attachments to the trees, grass, houses, and stretches of highway they live with. I doubt my ancestors were “rootless” in the way you suggest – it must’ve taken a great deal of courage to leave what they must have loved, so that they are their descendants could come to love other places that had the advantage of not being oppressive or poverty-stricken. I doubt the first generation ever lost their anguish at losing “home”, no matter how they prospered here.
Human beings don’t live in the abstract. The quote in question was not a denial of ideals but a simple statement of fact of how life is lived for most people – with the “melancholy chord” described by MB, above.
“All emotions have base and noble manifestations, Ken, and arguing about whether the human love for the dirt under one’s feet is good or bad is like arguing whether love for one’s children or kin is good or bad. It simply is.”
Well, yes, that is indisputable. But that, in and of itself, doesn’t tell us whether we should praise Bush for feeling this particular emotion strongly or damn Kerry for feeling it weakly.
But that, in and of itself, doesn’t tell us whether we should praise Bush for feeling this particular emotion strongly or damn Kerry for feeling it weakly.
Need we do either? Are these two emotions mutually exclusive? Is the fact that I consider myself a “rootless cosmopolitan” at odds with the deeply emotional ties I feel for the place of my birth in a rural area of southeast Kansas or smalltown Indiana where I spent most of my adolescence? Or is it really so strange that one can have dual loyalties as does my wife who is not yet an American citizen but who has embraced the American dream? Does the fact that she loves her country of origin, her King, her history, somehow contradict that she loves the new country that has embraced her and offered possibilities that were once only a dream? Or is all of this only part and parcel to a duality that cannot be explained away either rationally or logically.
When I went to college, many of my friends were from the nearby SAC base – at that time, families of those airmen moved oftener than once a year. So we were the most rooted of small town plains people and the most unrooted of air force kids. I think part of our affection (and sometimes misunderstanding) for each other came from the contrast those two “upbringings” made in our sense of place and sense of identity. Okay, I won’t say one is superior. But I wanted a certain rootedness for my kids.
As Cather points out (and I think this is equally true a hundred years later) what many of those immigrants wanted wasn’t only the feeling of ownership that comes from having the vote, freedom of speech and religion (which they had not had in their old country), but also the joy of owning land – a farm where I grew up but acreage, even a home. That is still a part of what people want when they come here. One of my husband’s friends is a gypsy (now a great scholar) and very proud of his heritage; nonetheless, when he bought a house with surrounding land, he told us how happily he walked to borders of his property at night. He loved the customs of his people but he also liked the sense that ownership of land gave him.
Ken – I’d disagree with Lex on the point of what Kerry does or does not feel – I don’t know and can’t know that. But his public persona certainly lacks that aura of rootedness in the particulars of American life. That’s a neutral observation, and it may or may not be a negative in itself in a political campaign. But I’m praising Bush’s statement here (though “praise” is not quite the right word) because it does indeed evoke the positive aspect of that emotion, and I suspect it resonates with a lot of people. It certainly didn’t invoke any “uh oh, love of the Texas landscape, gotta stay on alert against that blind nationalistic fervor”. (Hell, I love that empty Texas landscape, and I ain’t Texan.)
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