My friend Liam Vavasour, whose writing has appeared in these pages, entertained me at dinner the other night with a suggestion about the health and happiness of presidential candidates.
Liam observed that whenever one of these folks makes a speech, he (or she) always effusively compliments the state he’s talking in. Whether the candidate won or lost in, say, the South Carolina primary, he announces that he will be eternally grateful for the opportunity he’s had to meet the citizens of South Carolina in their homes and offices. He’d always thought that South Carolina was a lovely and historic state, but now he knows and understands the landscape, the traditions, the very soul of South Carolina; and this learning to know and love the state has been an enlightening, humbling, and deeply erotic experience.
He (and his lovely wife, or her lovely husband) look forward to returning man)’, many times to idyllic South Carolina, to renew their acquaintance with the wonderful friends they’ve made in South Carolina’s churches and schools and factories and union halls and mattress stores and prisons and gambling dens and houses of prostitution. In short, thank you! for letting us into your homes – and into your hearts. And as we move on to the wonderful state of North Carolina, we will always look back to South Carolina and thank you, thank you, thank you, from the very deepest bottom of our hearts, for the support and friendship – yes, the warm and palpitating love
– that all of you have extended to us these past 18 months. I and my beautiful wife (or husband) will always regard our stay in South Carolina as the acme and pinnacle of our lives, the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid, the top of the line in running shoes, the fulcrum of the radiance of the divine planet Venus. May every South Carolinian rise and call South Carolina blessed! For she alone is the origin of hospitality; she alone is the guarantor of American values; she alone is the ark and altar of American freedom and democracy.
The enunciation of these sentiments, Liam said, is obligatory. And you can’t doubt their truth. When invoking hearth and home, the duties of guests and hosts, the traditions of the 50 great American states, no politician can possibly go astray. None would lie; none would even exaggerate the facts. If one candidate said, IiSouth Carolina is a great place to live,” every other candidate would immediately declare that man a liar, for South Carolina is in truth the only place to live.
Then how awful it is (Liam added) that after every state primary, all these candidates are whirled away from their new-found friends, and, like Paolo and Francesca in Dante’s “Commedia,” are punished eternally in hell – either the part of it known as the Senate, which some of them are trying futilely to escape, or the part known as the White House.
The problem – and why shouldn’t we face it now? – is that no one really wants to live in the White House. Oh, people may pretend that they do. They may even picture to themselves the pleasures of January 20, when a police escort will take the president-elect to the Executive Mansion and deposit him there. They may think that this is really what they have spent their lives desiring.
But when their hearts are warmed, when their confiding spirits reach out to the modest citizens of Iowa or New Hampshire or wherever their staff informs them they are sleeping tonight, then they understand what their values really are. The White House? Never! I want to stay right here: Debbie’s Dew Drop Inn, Columbia, SC.
And that’s what they tell the voters, who perversely insist that they evacuate the hinterland and repair to the Nation’s Capital. Yet the only thing on which all presidential candidates agree is the evil nature of Washington, DC There has never been a presidential candidate since Washington himself who hasn’t run against Washington. It’s only an heroic sense of duty that keeps them from defecting, one by one, from the campaign trail, as each of them discovers the delights of Burlington, IA; Portsmouth, NH; and Fresno, CA.
Therefore, Liam argued, the best thing we can do is simply to vote against all party politicians who believe it’s against their nature to go to Washington. It’s an IiAtlas Shrugged” situation: the truly intelligent, productive members of American society must be saved from their imaginary obligation to live in Washington and serve the people, instead of retiring to Flint, MI, and spending the rest of their lives cooking hamburgers with their friendly neighbors.
The solution is: Take them at their word! Release them from their silly pledges to “change America,” “fix the health-care system,” “give everyone a free lunch,” darken the sun and turn the moon into blood. Free them from their “obliga- tions.” You like South Carolina? Fine: stay there. And the rest of us will promise to leave you completely alone.