Longtime Chronicles Magazine contributor Bill Kauffman is arguably America’s best writer on issues pertaining to localism, blood-and-soil conservatism and the patriotism of particularity (the only true patriotism, as G.K. Chesterton noted). Kauffman’s newest book Ain’t My America: The Long, Noble History of Anti-War Conservatism and Middle American Anti-Imperialism is being released this week and promises to be as good as his earlier effort “America First,” which had a big influence on me a decade ago. That book also introduced me to Gore Vidal, as he wrote the foreword.
While I can’t recommend Kauffman enough, here’s a little sample of his addictive writing style, a short column on the rootlessness of the current presidential candidates, published on the leftist (and great) Counterpunch website:
“The last three major-party presidential candidates standing have this in common: the state abbreviations after their names–John McCain (AZ), Hillary Clinton (NY), and Barack Obama (IL)–are no more meaningful than the random pairings of letters in a spoonful of alphabet soup. These are the candidates from nowhere. Or in Obama’s case, from everywhere. And this rootlessness has policy consequences.
Senator John McCain is a poster boy for the pathologies of the military brat. Born in the Panama Canal Zone, he attended twenty schools in his nomadic childhood.
“The place I lived longest in my life was Hanoi,” is how he shuts up critics of his carpetbagging, but he is making their point: Senator McCain’s loyalty is not to any particular American place but rather to a bureaucratic institution (the military) and an abstraction (the American Empire).
After marrying his second wife in 1980, McCain alit in her home state of Arizona in 1981 and was elected to Congress in 1982. He was a classic political carpetbagger searching for a winnable congressional seat, but when a voter questioned his lack of roots he shot back:
“Listen, pal. I spent 22 years in the Navy. My father was in the Navy. My grandfather was in the Navy. We in the military service tend to move a lot. We have to live in all parts of the country, all parts of the world. I wish I could have had the luxury, like you, of growing up and living and spending my entire life in a nice place like the First District of Arizona, but I was doing other things.”
An effective response, to be sure, but note the subsurface contempt for those who stay in one place. Not to worry: a President McCain, with his oft-quoted willingness to keep U.S. soldiers in Iraq for “a hundred years,” won’t let deep roots grow under our young people. His Army, always moving, is going to need bodies.
The Democrats are no more connected to particular places than is McCain. Hillary Clinton’s rootlessness became a national joke in her 2000 U.S. Senate campaign to represent New York, a state in which she had never lived. Wearing a Yankees cap was about as far as she went to assert her ersatz New Yorkness.
Barack Obama, lauded as the “world candidate,” was born in Hawaii, a state that is only in the union because of its military significance. Raised also in Indonesia and at various times resident in Los Angeles, New York City, and finally Chicago, Obama is a “cosmopolitan,” which by some lights means a sophisticate but which a character in Henry James’s Portrait of Lady defined as “a little of everything and not much of any. I must say I think patriotism is like charity-it begins at home.”
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