Lesson, Redux (from election eve 2008)
(First published Nov. 4, 2008)
I wandered the beach at midnight by the hamlet of Oyster Bay,
A fugitive from the fell report that would come on Election Day.
And upon a hill in the distance I espied a flickering light
Where the shade of Rudyard Kipling kept its vigil through the night.
And the shade of Kipling chortled through the dank November chill
To the ghost of Theodore Roosevelt there on the porch at Sagamore Hill:
“You ought to admit it fairly, as a business people will:
You have had no end of a lesson: it will do you nothing but ill,
Not on a single issue, or in one direction or twain,
But conclusively, comprehensively, and several times and again.
“You have lived too long with the stink of your sweat, and mistaken it for a perfume;
Beyond the horizon there rose a mirage, and it lured you along to your doom.
The mirage showed an ersatz American world from Tokyo to Timbuktu
In which every belligerent nation and tribe would look and think like you,
Where Shi’ite and Sunni and Turkmen and Druze, and Yazidi and Shabak and Kurd,
Would settle their problems by voting, instead of by massacre as they preferred,
Where the Taliban killers of Kandahar, and the mullahs who govern Iran,
And the suicide bombers of Hezbollah, and each sev’ral religion and clan,
Would stack up their guns by the parliament’s door, and embrace those whom they detest
‘Til the murderous hordes of the bloody Mideast look like Methodists in the Midwest.
In fact they all hate their neighbors more than ever they hated you,
Which is why they invest in your government bonds, just like any Christian or Jew.
You were taught an imperial lesson there on the Mesopotamian plain,
I fear it will profit you hardly at all; you will live in a planet of pain.
Your citizens ought to recite this verse, whenever your flag is unfurled:
‘O, we are an almost-chosen Land, the swankiest club in the world,
The club of survivors who left the Old World to sink in Eternity’s sand,
And founded the New.’ That was then. Alas for your almost-Chosen Land!”
The specter of Roosevelt boomed out in reply, “I fear it is even worse:
Where an almost-Blessing has succored this land, now there follows an almost-Curse,
A Biblical curse from Him with Whom we find ourselves at odds,
And chastens the almost-Chosen folk that whored after foreign gods.
I fear that the land will expectorate us, like the heathen who lived here before us,
And we will die out like the Romans of old, or the dodo and brontosaurus.
We have builded an idol offensive to God as the Israelites’ Golden Calf,
But stupider still, and with poorer excuse, and more obnoxious by half.
We have named the idol ‘Inclusiveness’, but forgot what inclusion entails:
The nations are drops of the bucket, and specks of small dust on the scales.
We included the remnant that left its past to rot on a distant strand,
And made them an almost-Chosen folk for an almost-Chosen land,
That was the source of our Blessing, but today the source of our Cuss
Is the foolish idea that the rest of the world is exactly the same as us.
We never have done stupider things in the past than were done by this President George,
And the very same God who sustained us so long has sent us instead a scourge
In the form of Barack Obama, a malevolent fellow with smarts,
Who took our measure with malice and gazed too deeply into our hearts.
We hail him the God of Inclusiveness, this self-promoting know-it-all,
The way Montezuma mistook Cortes for the deity Quetzalcoatl!
The Aztecs invited their conqueror in, and that put an end to their drama,
And tomorrow, America does the same thing by electing Barack Obama.
Generations to come (if any there are) will condemn us for losing the scrimmage,
And we’ve no one to blame but ourselves for the sin of adoring our own silly image.”
And that was the answer that Roosevelt made without regret or apology;
If Kipling were still alive you would find it reprinted in every anthology.