Taking a Page

Thanks to Al's superior parenting skills (and longer attention span when it comes to playing Car Dealership), I got to spend a lot of time reading this holiday weekend, and I finished Friday Night Lights last night. On Saturday night I came across a section that discussed the conservatism of West Texas in general and the 1988 presidential election in particular, and I was struck by its relevance to the current campaign.

I don't claim that the issues are exactly the same, or that Obama has much in common with Michael Dukakis in general, but the following section was enough to make me dog-ear the page.

Dukakis forces in Texas had thought they could win the state on the basis of the economy. They thought that the issues of gun control and the Pledge of Allegiance were emotional fads that would quickly die out. They never thought that Bush's rhetoric, a kinder, gentler vision of the "Morton Downey Show," would have much lasting effect. They patiently waited for the campaign to get back to the greater good of forging practical solutions to massive problems, but that shift never took place.

Perhaps just once Dukakis should have left the rarefied atmosphere of Boston and Harvard that seemed to entrap him no matter where he was, hopped in a car by himself, and taken a drive down one of those lonely, flat-as-a-pancake roads to the gleaming lights of a Friday night football game. As in ancient Rome, any road he chose would have gotten him there. He could have pulled down his tie and unbuttoned his collar. He could have gone to the concession stand to eat a frito pie and a chili dog and then wash it all down with one of those dill pickles that came carefully wrapped in silver foil. Instead of keeping track of the score, he could have sat in a corner of the stands to listen to the conversations around him as well as take note of what people were wearing, observed how they interacted with their children, listened to the songs the bands were playing, watched those balloons float into the air like doves of peace, and let the perfume of the Pepettes and the Golden Girls flow sweetly into his nostrils. He could have counted how many blacks were there, and how many Hispanics.

There was a heartbeat in those stands that dotted the Friday nights of Texas and Oklahoma and Ohio and Pennsylvania and Florida and all of America like a galaxy of stars, a giant, lurking heartbeat.

Michael Dukakis never heard that sound, and even if he had he probably would have dismissed it as some silly tribal rite practiced in the American boondocks by people who made no difference. But his opponent didn't make the same mistake. He had been down the lonely road to those games, where the heartbeat had resonated more spectacularly than in the healthiest newborn. He knew it was still as strong as ever. He knew what kind of values these people had.

Posted by Lori in books and politics at 1:11 PM on May 27, 2008