George H.W. Bush’s socks and the end of the world

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It tells us something. It tells us everything. Those who remember Bush’s campaign for president will recall the boot issue. Bush once wore cowboy boots on stage in a forum to imply that although he was the archetypal New England Yankee, he was also a real Texan with cowboy boots to prove it. But would a real Texan, say a five-generational rancher from Paint Creek like Gov. Rick Perry (R), allow himself to be photographed at such a symbolic event in top-siders and one red sock and one red blue sock at the end of his life? Never. Texans are at a historic beginning. When Ralph Waldo Emerson penned "Brahma" for The Atlantic in 1856, West Texas was still at war with the Comanche. New England is different.

Most New Englanders want to be like Bush. They want to go to Yale and wear J. Press suits. And most would find the sock thing charming, an indication that Bush has completed a conservative cycle. His has been a rite of exit to a historic postwar period. His, the graceful repackaging of the Reagan presidency, which was the main event in postwar conservative politics.

Bush, in a word, provided a peaceful opening to the West for those of us back East. And the socks, for an old-line New Englander like Bush, present a playful, graceful abjuring of power, an end-time motif, like that described in the old contraband Book of Common Prayer: “... in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength ...” And ours here in northern New England is a time of “returning” as well. Because George H.W. Bush was probably the last real New England Yankee ever to serve as an American national leader.

What Bush did in life was to gracefully open America to the West. It is a door that has opened that will not be closed. But I don’t see the rest of us, left behind in New England, being primary participants in this awakening. The West began with Reagan. New England ended with Bush. The rising American Century opens in the West, but here in New England, we return to sleep.