Flashbacks . . . And Not the Good Kind

I live on the western edge of Knoxville, an area that, over the last twenty years, has been transformed from rural countryside into one of those middle- to upper-class, golf course and shopping mall suburbs that now populate so many American cities. I’m guessing that my friends in the older parts of town have not been greeted each day this week, as I have, by mass mailings from the Tennessee Republican Party, encouraging me to get out and vote. It’s a wise move. East Tennessee is the Republican stronghold of the state, and they know that the success of their two most prominent candidates — Van Hilleary for Governor and Lamar Alexander for U.S. Senate — depends largely on high turnout.

The piece that came in yesterday’s mail is pretty remarkable. The front of the four-section foldout features a full color photo of a tranquil lake, surrounded by trees just beginning the fall turn. Above and below the photo, in red and blue print, is the caption:

As soon as you vote. . .
A new day will begin in Tennessee.

Though I was only twelve at the time, I can still remember Reagan’s ’84 campaign, the one in which he called on America to wake up to a new dawn. In After the End: Representations of Post-Apocalypse (1999), James Berger sees that campaign typified in one of Reagan’s stump speeches. In the months leading up to the Los Angeles Olympics, Reagan would imagine a Vietnamese immigrant passing the torch to a black man, who would then pass it on to an 80-year old woman. “My friends,” Reagan would preach, “that is America.” But, of course, the problem with Reagan’s rhetoric was that his America was one founded on nostalgia and misdirection. Reagan’s speech, writes Berger, “alludes to the most traumatic events of the 1960s, the Vietnam War and racial turmoil, and eliminates all their traumatic content in an image of perfectly achieved social harmony.”

And now that rhetoric is back and in Tennessee. I get to read about Hilleary’s plans to “reform” education by giving financial incentives to the best performing schools (could it be that the failing schools actually need the money more desperately?) and by focusing his efforts on reading and math in the early grades (has anyone told him that American 4th graders read at a higher level than children in almost every other nation, and that literacy levels, in fact, begin to drop off in middle school?). I get to read about his promise to “jumpstart” our economy by stopping any proposed income tax (have I mentioned lately that Tennessee now has the most regressive tax structure in the country?).

A new day. Hurrah.

And I get this piece of crap in my mail on the same day that Paul Wellstone is killed in a plane crash. Last night, Charlie Rose reran an interview with Wellstone that he conducted in July, 2001, soon after the Senator announced that he would run for reelection. Wellstone was passionate, informed, and articulate. I didn’t realize that they still made politicians like that.