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The Truth, Mainly - 07/27/1992

Summer vacation and Clinton’s call

Here in the snug tranquility of Paradise Regained, the prettiest cabin site in the Colorado Rockies, the momentous political events of the day pass almost unnoticed.

When Ross Perot says he's copping out because golly, it never occurred to him that his candidacy might throw the election into the House of Representatives, the hummingbirds slurping up the sugar water from our feeders don't miss a lick. When Bill Clinton tells the Democrat convention that he loves both his mother and his wife, the crystalline water of our bubbling brook doesn't pause in its downhill run to the Gulf of Mexico. And when Danny Quayle gravely pronounces the Democrat platform short on substance, Ned, the one-eyed beagle with the headstrong personality and the mismatched jaws, stretches and yawns and moves from the sunny side to the shady side of the deck.

The big news here is that an eight-point buck has been going through our meadow between 8:15 and 8:30 in the evenings. Even Ned is momentarily mesmerized by this delegate from the wild—as though he's reminded of his wolfish genetic traces that are mostly outvoted now by his domestic impulses to roll over for a piece of cheese.

We human animals too find ourselves unable to look away as the buck nibbles the clover. He looks up to watch us watching him and seems as curious as we are. His squatter's rights to the meadow predate ours by many millenia, but he shows no indignation at our trespass. Still, he must wonder at our nesting place so elaborate with bright and gurgling gadgets, and he must find the idea of a political convention as puzzling as a gathering of theologians. He seems willing, though, to believe that we mean no harm by any of it.

But why are we, who can drive by the deer in the pens at Pioneer Park without a second look, so hypnotized by this one, so absolutely incapable of looking at anything else while he's here? What is there about a deer in our meadow that makes irrelevant the question of who's going to lead the country for the next four years?

A part of it, I think, is that the deer represents what brought us here in the first place, the romantic, individualistic side of the American psyche that Thoreau spoke for, the side that says the hell with what society calls being responsible. Like Thoreau, the deer is "a self-appointed inspector of snow storms and rain storms," and finds that "time is but the stream I go a-fishing in."

Certainly the deer is not among the masses leading "lives of quiet desperation" because of what they call "doing their duty." Thus we envy him and admire him and cannot look away.

But there's another side to being American that's even older than 19th century romanticism; it's the side that relishes rather than ridicules doing our duty, and it goes back to those 17th century Puritans who settled in New England.

The Truth, Mainly


And that's the side that Bill Clinton, once past his maudlin confessions of love for mother and wife, was appealing to in his acceptance speech. What sounds like his campaign catch phrase—not a New Deal or a New Frontier, but a New Covenant—echoes the language the Puritans brought with them in 1620, language they wrapped around the notion that we're a special people on a divinely ordained mission, and because God is so clearly on our side, our end of the bargain requires us to do our duty to set ourselves up as a city on a hillside for others to be inspired by.

The Thoreau in us may say that going to the polls to accomplish that end is a fool's errand because all government is so inherently corrupt that it doesn't matter who gets elected anyway. But to the Puritan in us, that smells like a futilitarian retreat from responsibility.

And as much as it gravels my anti-Puritan soul to say it, I have to agree.

Because recent appointments to the Supreme Court suggest it matters who makes those nominations. A national debt that's quadrupled since 1980 suggests it matters who proposes our budgets. The measure of a tree as no more than a number of board feet of lumber suggests it matters who makes our environmental decisions.

And when the International Study Team tells us that because of immediate and delayed effects of sanctions and the Gulf War, 70,000 Iraqi children under the age of five died in 1991 and nearly 26,000 more died in the first four months of 1992, it must matter a great deal who decides our foreign policy.

So while the romantic in us finds the deer in our meadows irresistible, the Puritan within whispers that 12 years is a wickedly long summer vacation from responsibility and that it's time to come home now.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.


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