Jewish World Review Feb. 14, 2003/ 12 Adar I, 5763

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Deadhead poets and society


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | First Lady Laura Bush astonished the nation's intelligentsia because they learned that this subversive hick of the East Wing has been holding symposiums on literature. The Northeast snobs had to grapple with their discovery that a conservative knows literature exists. They were flummoxed that the Bush two-hour sessions covered Mark Twain, the Harlem Renaissance, and female writers from west of the Mississippi. They were unaware that people west of the Mississippi could read.

The media, politicos, and think-tankers have been duped by Mrs. Bush's demure appearance and stay-at-home background. Not I. Mrs. Bush reeks of "I know who I am and don't give two Texas hoots what the rest of you think." What fools these men be who dismissed her as benign. Mrs. Bush is one sly fox, complete with auburn highlights. Those red fingernails are the evidence that still waters run deep.

Liberal rubes were victims of a classic bait and switch. Mrs. Bush's literary series shoots shotgun-size holes in their stereotype of Republican spouses. Mrs. Bush had black historian David Levering Lewis and Ursula Smith, one of them thar Western writers, participate in her White House series. Both these writers despise Mr. Bush, because, like most literati who make the New York Times Book Review, they cotton to rogue dictators.

When the elite and the fourth estate discovered this stealth usurpation of their intellectual territory as well as the bipartisan nature of Mrs. Bush's author invitations, they were outraged. "Why," they queried, "do you invite confessed enemies of your husband, disdainers of his intellect, and believers that he stole the presidency via a wacko right-wing U.S. Supreme Court?" Mrs. Bush responded, "There's nothing political about American literature."

Her response really got the lefties' goats, or whatever irks animal rights folk if I have unabashedly equated the goat family with anything untoward. "Nothing political???" they screeched, naming Uncle Tom's Cabin, Huckleberry Finn, The Jungle, The Grapes of Wrath and The Crucible. "Why, that's all there is to literature," they shouted, "Politics! The rest is just details."

Mrs. Bush has trumped these snooty sprigs. Mrs. Bush is a true conservative, albeit a slightly deceptive one with that aura of innocence and feigned detachment from the West Wing power circle. True conservatives do not impose personal animus as the penalty for political disagreement. They listen, read, search, inquire, and question. Their only censorship is quality, and quality does not always fall along political lines. Mrs. Bush explores good literature. Period.

By contrast, Huckleberry Finn is the most frequently banned book in public schools. Daddy's Roommate and Heather Has Two Mommies are but footnotes compared to the bans on To Kill a Mockingbird and Tom Sawyer. Liberals have redacted phrases from classic literature, banished the very books tossed at Mrs. Bush as evidence of literature's politics, and used the Oprah book club as a quality screen. Mrs. Bush's political ideology does not control her appreciation for a good writer.

Mrs. Bush lesson on bipartisan literature has fallen on deaf ears. Some leftists won't retract their claws long enough to visit the White House. Mrs. Bush had scheduled a poetry symposium until pedestrian poet Sam Hamill (not exactly Keats or Wordsworth) threw a hissy-fit. Upon receiving the Laura Bush invitation he responded, "I was overcome by a kind of nausea," and organized poets against the war and Bush.

Hamill declined the invite by displaying abhorrent manners and bad-mouthing the hostess's husband, calling Mr. Bush "morally bankrupt." Mr. Clinton was in Chapter 11 moral restructuring for 8 years, but Mr. Hamill never spake a word then, forsooth.

As a result of this poet's petulant posture, Mrs. Bush issued a statement and a cancellation. While she respects all views, she added, "It would be inappropriate to turn a literary event into a political forum." Well said.

I say to Mr. Hamill what I offer Hollywood "artistes" such as Sean Penn, Alec Baldwin, and George Clooney. Make your movies and shut up. Make your point about your politics through art, not with a club to our heads. Dear poets, offer us your iambic pentameter. Rhyme your verses. Inspire. Cause us to question. Let your art speak for itself. Shrill lectures detract.

We understand that poets hate war. They trot amongst daffodils, clouds and the shores of Gitche Gumee. The rest of us protect them in their inspirational la-la lands so that literature thrives. Their big stick is soft-spoken eloquence that moves us to constraint. Personal vendettas mar the beauty of authors' words. Mrs. Bush understands these points. The deadhead poets' society that RSVPed via personal invective does not.

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JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.

Up

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© 2002, Marianne M. Jennings