Tuesday, August 04, 2009

A Look Back

I realized that my family missed a milestone. It was ten years ago, August 1, 1999, that we settled down in our little parsonage in LaMoille, IL, beginning a new chapter in our lives. Like any such noted lapse of time, celebrating a decade is as arbitrary as celebrating, say, seven years. In the ten years since we moved from far southern Virginia to a tiny town that is no more than an island in the ocean of corn that is north central Illinois, we have moved to our third President, our second appointment, had a second child, lost a dog and a cat, gained a dog and guinea pigs, added a second part-time job for me, lost family (Lisa's father), and done all the other things that ten years of living will do.

When we moved, my only real experience of Illinois was the quasi-suburban reality of DeKalb County, where my mother-in-law and sister-in-law still live. When I saw LaMoille, I realized that I was about to be immersed in a part of Illinois that is lost, in many ways. Out of the way, far from major highways and crossroads, LaMoille is a narrow strip of streets that cuts through the farms of Bureau County. The first morning we were in our new home, standing in the kitchen drinking coffee and looking out the back window, looking out on the corn that started again at the fence line in our backyard and stretched beyond the horizon, I said to Lisa, "Well, there's not a day goes by I won't know I live in Illinois." We laughed, because the similarities between Jarratt, VA and LaMoille, IL were and are quite striking. Small towns, lost in time, even as big changes swirl around them. Both quaint, even comely, yet awash in the same troubles all communities face.

What is far more interesting, to me at any rate, is how little around us has changed in the past decade. The larger political and social scene is remarkably similar to those last, heady days of the Clinton era, although economically its mirror image. Rather than cycling higher and higher due in no small measure to the "Dot Com" bubble, our economy has ground to a halt, even reversing itself a bit, as the chickens of deregulated banking came home to roost. While it would be nice to think that a decade would have changed the faces and the names of our politicians and publicists, it is depressing that, in a time when we have elected a man President who has an African name, far too many of those who still swirl around the various seats of power are the same people who, ten years ago, were making fun of Al Gore, telling us there wasn't a dime's worth of difference between Gore and his likely Republican challenger, George W. Bush, and who spoke from on high, oracles to the masses offering their views through the filters of television, news magazines and whatnot. At the time, I still subscribed to The New Yorker, and I remember an article by Joe Klein, who was writing regularly for them at the time, I believe in the autumn of '99, on how frustrated he was, not with the substance of a speech then-VP Gore had given on education policy; Klein was frustrated by other things - the lack of attention the details of the speech would receive (a problem Klein himself didn't fix by offering them in his article), and the delivery style (Klein, ever the striving lover, seeking that one perfect political soulmate, always to be frustrated by the grim realities of clay feet and wooden delivery styles), yearning as he wrote for the nasal incantations and high-pitched voice of Harry Truman over the slower, somewhat stilted baritone gravitas of Gore. Of such nonsense much of our public discourse still consists.

I guess the one thing that has changed, and made a change for the better, is the very thing you are reading. I don't mean my web log in particular. I mean the entire phenomena of political blogging. While I am still frustrated by the truly stupid level of much of our elite discourse, by its superficiality, its domination by insiders, and its focus on trivia and its refusal to discuss the merits and substance of policy, the blogs have managed in some small way to correct that. Our large, elite journals and purveyors of opinion have noticed, yet most of the pushback has consisted of a haughty disdain at foul-mouthed bloggers who are parasitic on the hard-working "real" journalist (as if all bloggers are frustrated journalists). This general opinion still exists, and erupts now and again, such as when a writer from The Huffington Post asked a question at a Presidential news conference recently. The rest of the White House Press Corps acted as if a homeless person had wandered in to the briefing from Lafayette Park, pissed on the carpet, and was treated to a beer and some crackers with the President.

These ten years have been exciting, mournful, stressful, sometimes a strain and sometimes created a wonderful sense of escape from the world around us. Our children are growing (my older daughter, who turned two just weeks before we moved, is starting Junior High in a few weeks; our younger daughter was not only not born, but not even contemplated and she will be starting 3rd grade and got her first orthodontic appliance a few weeks back) and Lisa and I have more gray hairs (well, I do; thanks to L'Oreal, not even Lisa knows what her real hair color is). I miss our Great Dane, Gretchen, even as I celebrate our wonderful St. Bernard, Dreyfus.

Most of all, I am glad to be alive and active, participating in my children's lives, my wife's life, and our national life. I hope that the next ten years are as exciting and filled with unforeseen wonders and tragedies as the past ten have been.

And that it still finds us here, in Illinois (unless, of course, something better comes along).

Virtual Tin Cup

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