(Nantucket, Mar. 22) Aside from being an incomparable setting to wrestle the demons of writer’s block, the wild bleak beauty of this wintry island 30 miles off the coast of Massachusetts embodies those special charms that have long attracted me to the misty isles of the northern latitudes (think Aran, Shetland, Orkney). Presuming a taste for solitude, there are few better circumstances in which to contemplate man’s place in the universe than walking three or four miles along magnificent windswept beaches without encountering a single human being, yet always in the presence of the awesome power of Nature in the form of the huge winter surf that relentlessly pounds and reshapes these shores. First settled in 1659 --not long after the Pilgrim’s landed at nearby Plymouth Rock -- Nantucket is best known as the leader of New England’s historic whaling industry which ended in the late nineteenth century. Silent reminders of that time are in the many “Widow’s Walks” perched atop stately period homes -- architectural accommodations for the lonely women who scanned the far horizon for the sight of a sail that might herald the return after two or three years in the most distant places of those tiny wooden whaling vessels and their sturdy men who “went down to the sea in ships”.
As I walk along the cobble-stoned Main Street to the only place you can get a daily newspaper (unless of course the tiny airport is shrouded in fog), I reflect that Herman Melville once trod upon these very same rough paving stones in the days when he constructed the apotheosis of American literature, Moby Dick . (I was determined to get “apotheosis” in here somewhere as a small tribute to that late and great Renaissance man Bill Buckley, a renowned sailor who often made landfall in the nearby harbor).
My experience over forty years suggests that Nantucket’s greatly expanded summer population is politically increasingly dominated by upscale liberals (John Kerry’s “little cottage” is not far from here). Republicans, however, still own the winter.
Before I followed Ronald Reagan into that long line of Democrats who saw the light, I was a Democrat who was a minor but enthusiastic participant in the campaigns of my fellow Massachusetts Irish Catholics the Kennedys (never discount the enduring power of tribalism in politics). I yet remain in touch with a few fellow warriors from those long ago campaigns -- one retired to this island -- and as “older men” do we occasionally get together to reminisce about life’s springtime and try to make sense of all that has happened since.
Hard as it may be to believe, once there were more conservatives than liberals in the Democratic Party. In fact John Kennedy emerged from the party’s conservative wing. Eleanor Roosevelt -- always “ madly for Adlai” (Stevenson) –- absolutely despised the Kennedys and viewed them as paragons of illiberality. Recall that Bobby was a devoted employee of Senator Joe McCarthy and Jack won the White House as a more “hawkish” Cold Warrior than Richard Nixon.
My, how times and Kennedys have changed! I would suggest it is impossible to understand what happened to America in the last half century without a full appreciation of what happened to the Democratic Party.
If you ever saw a bird flying overhead with just one wing you would know that you were witnessing a wholly unnatural act. Today the Democratic Party is an un-natural bird with just one wing -- a left wing. For proof one need only observe the strange combat of Obama vs. Clinton and note the absolute absence of any genuine debate or contrast on issues. They argue whether surrender in Iraq will take nine months or maybe twelve. Hillary wants to impose government health care on 100 % of the population immediately; Obama is willing to start with 85 %. Absent any difference on issues that leaves nothing but personal attacks -- Hillary is a “monster," Barack is a plagiarist, etc.
This is the party of Jefferson?
It is Saturday night and we are gathered at a vintage island establishment interestingly called the “Brotherhood of Thieves”. A cold wet wind howls outside -- but within, both fireside and friendship warm two ex-Democrats as we speculate on how it will all turn out: not just this watershed Presidential campaign, but where history is leading the country we both love.
Bill Moloney was Colorado Education Commissioner, 1997-2007. His columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News, and Pacific News Service.