Say what?

Editorial Notebook

October 01, 2005|By WILL ENGLUND

When Martin O'Malley dipped his oar this week into the waters of The Great Gatsby with that line about how "we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past," some people were scratching their heads - people, no doubt, who haven't yet realized they themselves are rowing in just those boats.

Normally, politicians want to be clear, or at least want to seem to be clear. But what if this catches on? What if Mr. O'Malley wanted people to say, "Huh?" What if politicians were to stop whacking voters over the heads with lame declarative sentences and numbingly obvious attempts at inspiration?

Over in Germany, one candidate for chancellor, Angela Merkel, played the Rolling Stones' "Angie" at her rallies. "Ain't it time we said goodbye?" goes the song. Could this be the start of the why-bother-to-make-sense movement in world politics?

The edgy possibilities for literary and musical allusion are legion, for any politicians out there willing to be a bit inscrutable. Here are just a few to try out:

"Cast a cold eye on life, on death. Horseman, pass by!" William Butler Yeats wrote it, but maybe Thomas V. Mike Miller, the state senate leader and friend to racing interests, could use it.

"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." That's House leader Mike Busch, channeling Rhett Butler, in reply. Or, more politely, he could turn to Herman Melville's Bartleby. "I prefer not to."

What's to stop Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. from taking a page from The Sun's own sage, H. L. Mencken? "Nine times out of ten, in the arts as in life, there is actually no truth to be discovered; there is only error to be exposed."

"Always Leave Them Laughing When You Say Goodbye." George M. Cohan penned the song; William Donald Schaefer could sing the lyrics.

On the national stage, Tom DeLay, the indicted GOP congressman, could invoke Dorothy Parker, who said, "I don't care what is written about me, as long as it isn't true." Jeb Bush, the top man in sultry Florida, might like John Milton's line: "Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav'n."

And who could resist campaign slogans like these?

"I am gall, I am heartburn." Gerard Manley Hopkins.

"Hurry up please its time." T.S. Eliot. Or (and here Baltimore comes to mind again): "I think we are in rats' alley where the dead men lost their bones."

A budget-cutting governor should try out Lord Byron's aphorism: "The great art of life is sensation, to feel that we exist, even in pain." Feels better already, doesn't it?

A candidate hoping to appeal to the tired-of-optimists bloc could do worse than campaign on Damon Runyon's thought: "I long ago came to the conclusion that all life is 6 to 5 against."

His opponent could counter, with Thomas Wolfe: "I believe that we are lost here in America, but I believe we shall be found."

Melville again (from Moby Dick), for anyone campaigning in the Gulf states: "Woe to him who seeks to pour oil upon the waters when God has brewed them into a gale! Woe to him who seeks to please rather than to appall!"

"I am always at a loss to know how much to believe of my own stories," wrote Washington Irving.

"A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of." Ogden Nash. That must apply to something.

"There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before." This was Willa Cather's way of saying the same thing F. Scott Fitzgerald did in The Great Gatsby. Maybe it could become Doug Duncan's theme.

"I'm Nobody! Who are you? Are you -- Nobody -- too?" Emily Dickinson.

Finally, here are some possible campaign themes that strike at the very heart of what it means to be a politician:

"You lose more of yourself than you redeem, doing the decent thing." Seamus Heaney.

Or how about Oliver, from the musical? "Please, sir, I want some more."

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