Politics and the Lava Lamp Syndrome

A church that figures prominently in governing issues gives lava lamps to young people especially selected to defy their own generational instincts and carry the ancients forward. The ancients see the lava lamp as a symbol of its commitment to “youth.” Remember “youth”? It is what they used to call teenagers in the 1960s as if it — youth — was its very own minority or ethnic group. Remember lava lamps? They were a commercial fad in 1965. The slow movement of the viscous liquids had a soothing effect on college kids — youth — back then getting stoned and listening to James Taylor in the college dorms in Amherst, Storrs and Cambridge.

It is pretty hard for us New Englanders to let go of things — like James Taylor — and people sometimes mistakenly think we are serious because we keep remembering things that everyone else has long forgotten: Cotton Mather, The Book of Common Prayer, Squanto, beans and franks on Saturday night, James Taylor and lava lamps. It might be expected; possibly the best of us have long gone west, a good many following Joseph Smith well over 100 years ago now. Others followed the Asian muse to the Pacific Palisades in the shiny car in the night and the hardiest crossed the Yukon to Alaska. There are two kinds of churches here in New England: stone church and wood church. Emerson thought they were both the same. Walpola Rahula, a Buddhist monk, said they were both really political parties. Mine is wood but I bring news to the stone church: Tiny Tim is dead and so is Kurt Cobain. A guy name Steve Jobs has invented a really great new electric typewriter thing that can talk called Apple and Taylor and Jake have split up. And the ’60s called: They want their lava lamp back.

But you can see the problem here: “Youth” is imagined by people well into the 80s and their vision has varied little since the 1950s. It is a problem in political parties both with the old and the young: The old, H.W. and Barbara Bush, support those who most resemble them as they remember themselves to have been when they were young. And the youth — such as it is — strive to be as they imagine them to have been back in the ’50s. Mitt Romney wins the lava lamp award this year for the Republicans, but Mike Pence in the Tea Party mask is runner-up.

Hands down, the award for the Democrats goes to President Obama. If the Republican is the party of the ’50s remembering itself, Obama fulfills the yearnings — à la recherche du temps perdu — of the ’60s. How proud Rose Kennedy would be, and thrilled that he even walks a Kennedy dog.

That is why the 2012 race will be so compelling. Time can no longer be held back. The century is upon us. The party of the ’50s will yield to the new, and possibly so now will the party of the ’60s.


Visit Mr. Quigley's website at http://quigleyblog.blogspot.com.