Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Conservatism

Winesburg, Ohio

I talk a lot, and not just in the classroom.  I average giving one or two talks a week, next week it will be four.  I almost never turn down an invitation to give a talk and accept even the formal ones, although I insist on bringing those down a notch or two, to a popular level.  I try to say things so that everyone around me understands what I am saying, including me.  This has the healthy effect of encouraging conversation, with minimal pretense.  Sometimes this surprises folks, because after all I am a professor, so they expect me to obfuscate (make things less clear).  I sometimes flatter myself in thinking that this is the way Twain or Lincoln would talk, if they were around.  The topic chosen for me doesn't matter, because I always say the same thing: I talk about what talking has to do with self-government.  I mention all this because I spoke at Winesburg about ten days ago (three days after a talk in Colorado).  The group calls itself a Community Roundtable, and they are after self-improvement and education. There are Constitution booklets at the door and a basket for donations, from the able and the willing, to pay for the hall and the coffee. The town's a little-bitty place, not even a stop sign in it.  They said come to the building across the street from fire station, on Main Street (of course).  I found it and discovered a useful hall with just under a hundred folks there, from bearded Mennonites to austere Calvinists to Baptists, with maybe even a few Catholics, with a half dozen kids and mothers and even a few teenagers.  The atmosphere was Lyceum-like, friendly and respectful, but busy.  I talked for an hour and then conversed for another, then lingered with folks for yet another hour.  Wit and humor were our constant companion and I was comfortable from the first minute.  After all, these are the folks who practice honest industry, have some rational foresight, and know something about how restraining the passions leads to not only wealth and happiness, but also self government.  In other words, these are not Harvard PhD's, but are simply Americans.  I am at home with them.  I don't have to persuade them of anything and there is no pretense.  I merely remind them of something they already know.  I toss around the idea of natural rights and right and the Constitution, bring in Madison and the boys as needed.  So heads nod as I talk, and hands go up (or not) as they (rightly) jump in with observations and comments, sometimes with questions.  But mostly, we just talk with one another.  I mention this in passing because sometimes the educated-sophisticated class gives us the impression that we are on a downhill slide toward collapse and degradation and are about to give up governing ourselves.  I actually don't need election returns from distant states, or a good Supreme Court decision, to remind me that we are still capable of governing ourselves.  I just have to go to places like Winesburg (and they are everywhere).  By the way, one of the organziers of the group gave me a hand-made rocking chair as a present.  A gift from some friends, he said.  He placed it gently in the back of Clarence for me.  I didn't get a good look at it until I got home, when my moist eyes were clear once again.  It's lovely and very comfortable and I am grateful.
Categories > Conservatism

Discussions - 3 Comments

Amen.

Dang, that's America, all right.

Dr. Schramm - That is certainly a lot of glorification and romanticizing of small town Americans. Fits right in with Palin's constant reminders of "Real America" Vs. The Elitists.

You also certainly seem to identify yourself as one of them; it appears that "You Americans" has become "We (Real) Americans":

"I talked for an hour and then conversed for another, then lingered with folks for yet another hour. Wit and humor were our constant companion and I was comfortable from the first minute. After all, these are the folks who practice honest industry, have some rational foresight, and know something about how restraining the passions leads to not only wealth and happiness, but also self government. In other words, these are not Harvard PhD's, but are simply Americans. I am at home with them. I don't have to persuade them of anything and there is no pretense. I merely remind them of something they already know."

"I insist on bringing those down a notch or two, to a popular level. I try to say things so that everyone around me understands what I am saying, including me. This has the healthy effect of encouraging conversation, with minimal pretense. Sometimes this surprises folks, because after all I am a professor, so they expect me to obfuscate (make things less clear)."

I think there is a pretense involved, and that is the one that paints a portrait of a man OUTSIDE the "educated-sophisticated class" despite his degrees from London School of Economics and Claremont, despite his working in DC under Pres. Reagan, despite his closeness to Jaffa (who is hardly some Andy Griffith-style sage himself), and despite his various academic and political connections. To be fair to the people of Winesburg, isn't there also some pretense (rightly or wrongly) involved in the automatic assumption that you need to bring your talks "down a notch or two, to a popular level" when you dip your toe into the waters of small-town America?

It goes without saying that your talks explicitly or implicitly promote certain conservative principles, but it should be noted that there are people, both within and without elite circles, who treasure the Constitution and have legitimately different views on vital policy matters than you and most Ashbrook disciples do.

I also found this sentence particularly striking:
"...sometimes the educated-sophisticated class gives us the impression that we are on a downhill slide toward collapse and degradation and are about to give up governing ourselves"

...considering that the loudest, no doubt all-American voice to be pushing such talk is not - let's be honest - from the "educated-sophisticated class" at all, but a man whose primary qualification to get on so many airwaves is that he's a recovering alcoholic radio DJ. It's Glenn Beck, the man you described as "inspiring," "informative," and who "tells it like it is" and "cuts through the fog." (like Twain and Lincoln?), the Ashbrook Memorial Dinner keynote speaker for 2006. He doesn't just "sometimes" scream that we're "on a downhill slide toward collapse and degradation" - he does it incessantly.

Rural America is not some monolithically right-wing conservative Republican place. It's a complex place (just as our cities are).

I say this as someone who has been to Winesburg, Ohio (as well as Clyde, Jelloway, Danville, and the little England crossroads outside of Ashland), and with family scattered around such places.

Sherwood Anderson knew that such places were not devoid of pretense, either:

http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2424/3886908803_0b72a8d446_b.jpg

"The hopes and dreams, secret lusts and sudden passions, the ambitions, pretenses and subterfuges of the people living in a small American town"

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