Tag Archives: President Barack Obama


I borrowed this title from Joe Donahue’s poem sequence about JFK in his 1989 book Before Creation. I imagine a drawer in an old bureau in the cellar or attic filled with collectibles from the Kennedy years. Campaign pins, scrapbooks, LIFE magazine issues. I still have in my office at home a memento from 1963, a gold-painted plaster cast of President Kennedy’s head nested in the outspread wings of an American eagle—about the size of a small plate. It was not unusual to see these in homes around Lowell. Everyone seemed to have some form of representation of JFK on the wall, a framed print, a photograph, a calendar page. My memory is that my mother bought the plaster JFK at the supermarket.

Kennedyana is mounting as Nov. 22 approaches. Early yesterday morning on BBC radio there was a fascinating broadcast taped in Dallas with six witnesses to the event, including the top surgeon in the hospital room, the lawman who was handcuffed to Oswald when Ruby shot Oswald, the Secret Service man who climbed on the back of the limo, a mother who was a few feet from the car with two kids when the shots hit, a Dallas news reporter who was on scene, and a police officer who helped capture Oswald in the movie-house. Amazing that they are all still alive and could be rounded up for the news program. It was eerie to hear them recreate the moments, interspersed with audio news clips from the time. Each of them believes Oswald acted alone in the assassination.

I was almost ten years old in Nov, 1963, and after all this time I’m not sure I can describe what it has meant to have the president shot out from under us like that. I’m sure it changed me in ways that I don’t even know. Assassination. What kind of word is that for a kid to process? The event was like a natural disaster. My son was six years old on 9/11. My father was 22 the day Pearl Harbor was attacked; my mother 20. I was very aware of Pres. Kennedy, even at 9 years old. I have a vivid recollection of the inauguration. My mother kept me home from school that day. Of course we had a heightened sense of JFK as people of Massachusetts, as Catholics. He was young in years, but was for me as old as my parents, a few years older, born in 1917. I don’t know if I would have had a lifelong interest in politics if not for President Kennedy. He made politics appealing and significant. It looked like a meaningful way to orient your life. It mattered. I was still a kid, but I had not gotten a sense of that from President Eisenhower, whose photo was on the wall of the Big Brother Bob Emery Show on TV (“A toast to the president”). Cue the “Hail to the Chief” music. Can you imagine a children’s TV show today with a segment called “A toast to the president” as kids in the studio and at home raise a glass of milk out of respect to Barack Obama? And President Kennedy gave us the astronauts, the Space Race, the excitement of aiming for a moon landing. The future seemed to be opening up at the same time that the turmoil over Civil Rights forced everyone to face the reality of racism. Things were moving fast. Mrs. Kennedy was setting cultural styles. The White House projected a sense of being high-minded.
You look back on it now and JFK and Jackie seem to be such an aberration, followed by Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon. It’s as if the mainstream pulled the culture back toward a kind of muddling middle rather than leave it out there in the fast lane. Of course, now we know JFK was reckless in ways that we don’t admire. His team, not surprisingly, was flawed. Still, the larger package of ambition, energy, openness, “new frontier” caught the imagination of so many of us. The torch in the hand of a new generation. American society maybe could not stand the cultural disturbance that Kennedy represented. Johnson and Nixon were of the same WWII generation but they seemed 20 years older in their ideas and style. You sense some of the same tension today with the Obamas. Who was thrown up against them?—McCain and Romney, who both come across as if they could be Barack’s father or grandfather. And now President Obama has stumbled badly in trying to implement new health-care policy. The words, “See, we told you so,” are rising in the affronted chorus. With justification. There’s little margin for error when you push for transformation. Reaching beyond the grasp is risky. A lot of people are pulling for failure. Damage has been done. Much of it self-inflicted. Kennedy had his public failures, too. He had to own it and move forward. There is always more of the people’s work to do. Now, 50 years since Dallas, we reconcile the good and bad and still try to make sense of that violent act.

Who Was Martha, Anyway?

Two more bulletins from Martha’s Vineyard by our far-flung correspondent Ray LaPorte. So, the handy Wikipedia tells us that English seaman Bartholomew Gosnold ventured near the Atlantic coast in 1602 and named a smaller island near today’s M.V. for his young daughter who had died—and historians say the name migrated to the larger island; the local Wampanoags called the island Noepe (“land amid the streams”).—PM


Aug. 10, 2013

As a fifth generation Lowell native with a deep sense of belonging, and despite living elsewhere for half of my life, I am always amazed how often connections to my hometown appear wherever I may be and without much prodding. Just yesterday the Tilt-a-Whirl  truck heading by my office on the way to the Vineyard Fairgrounds was a Cushing Amusement vehicle from Wilmington. A local Vineyard Haven eclectic shop has an “On The Road” t-shirt displayed all summer in its window, always bringing a smile to me as I pass by. And this weekend, my old friend and former Lowell Historic Preservation Commission (LHPC) colleague, Fred Faust, is here visiting, and so we had our Lowell gal pal and former LHPC colleague and now Vineyarder, Pam Chicklis Scott, over for dinner.  Needless to say, the entire dinner conversation was about Lowell and our collective work there in the heady eighties and how the old home town has blossomed since. As we await the impending arrival of POTUS, et al, we shall head to a secluded beach to swim, avoid the crowds, and enjoy a summer day while they last.
On The Road shirt (4)

Aug. 11, 2013

POTUS arrived mid-day Saturday aboard one of two presidential helicopters that crossed Vineyard Sound trailing three very impressive V-22 Osprey aircraft http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrzhPf_a6Vw , something new to us and an impressive sight to see and rumble to hear. From our vantage point on the beach a mile south, it seemed a smaller flight formation than previous sightings, but still plenty of Coast Guard watercraft running about with bow-mounted machine guns. A very noticeable and welcome side affect of his visit is the total lack of recreational planes and private jets in the air, reminiscent of those eerie days following 9/11. Am I wrong to be happy that a few jetting one-percent-ers are being inconvenienced by his vacation here? And unlike previous years, cell phone service and strength has not been noticeably affected, but we now don’t mention certain words while using cell phones, internet searches, or e-mailing. Last evening after dinner we went to Oak Bluffs for a stroll, and our first ice cream of the season (really!), chocolate raspberry for us, lemon sorbet for Fred (really Fred?). And other than a Channel 4 news broadcast van set up with person-on-street interviewer poised for taping, there seemed no big buzz or chatter about the visit. We are at full capacity and not a nattering nabob of GOP discontent can be heard. It’s nice to live in the Democratic Republic of Martha’s Vineyard in August despite the inconveniences.

—Raymond LaPorte, reporting from Vineyard Haven



Island in the News-Stream


One of our loyal readers and far-flung occasional correspondents, Ray LaPorte of Martha’s Vineyard, sent his reflections in anticipation of this summer’s Presidential visit to the island. Ray has been off shore for years, with his wife, Bernadette, following earlier life passages in Pawtucketville, Worcester, New York City, and Washington, D.C. If we are lucky, he will send updates on the festivities and local embrace of the First Family.—PM


The Tilt-A-Whirl truck just passed my office window heading to the island’s fairgrounds, a sure sign that we here on the Vineyard are about to experience our annual peak week of crowds, events, The Fair, Illumination Night, POTUS, FLOTUS, Hill and Bill and their attendant entourages. There will be no room in any inn, home, or hotel here for the next 10 days, as our seasonal population swells to the outer limits of 100k, and our roads, beaches, and restaurants will be at full capacity and beyond until the end-of-summer ebb,  which begins on the 18th. It is a time of conflicting emotions for we islanders, as we actively practice the art of avoidance of the chaos that fuels our seasonal economy and hide in our quiet places of refuge and pray for September. As the truck passed, I had a melancholy moment trying to reconcile that the summer needs to be held longer than the calendar allows and that time’s short. The grass needs cutting, but it can wait. I’m heading to the beach for a swim instead.

—Ray LaPorte, reporting from Vineyard Haven

Mitch in a Ditch

Why am I writing about Kentucky? Because they have a bunch of representatives and two senators in Washington, D.C., whose votes affect us in Massachusetts. We are all in this together. I found today’s news from Kentucky fascinating. The Democrat challenging Sen. Mitch McConnell for one of the state’s two Senate seats is leading by one point in a new poll. Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes has the Minority Leader in the Senate, the long-time Republican office-holder, tied up, basically. Who would have imagined that result in the summer of 2013? Unless something bigger is going on. Maybe the political tectonic plates are shifting in the South. Maybe the obstructionist, negative, anti-, small-minded nature of the Washington Republicans is sinking in everywhere. Most people are fair in the end. That’s what I have seen. And perhaps the ceaseless war against President Obama that has been waged by the national Republicans since February 2009 is proving to be a bad choice.

Whether it is in Washington, D.C., or in a local city hall, politicians who only want to fight their opponent wear out the patience of voters. There is too much that needs to be done. An elected official is expected to get something done, and not morph into a Jersey barrier. They are supposed to be more like a power strip with lots of places for connections to be made so that energy can be transmitted to make something “go” or “work.” Mitch McConnell has turned into a Jersey barrier, and I’m not saying that as a reference to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who can be the very opposite of the humorless GOP members in Congress. Have you ever seen more snarls and snark and sneering as in the Washington GOP caucus? Maybe it is all catching up to them. I would say a growing number of people are tired of  ”Angry” as a permanent emotional setting. In a state where kooky Rand Paul is the other US Senator, wouldn’t it be wild to see a woman and a Democrat elected to the Senate from Kentucky? It should really be a blue state if you look at the facts.

A lot of voters liked it when Christie and President Obama met as responsible public officials in the wake of the hurricane that demolished large sections of the coast in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. That photo of the two of them embracing sent a powerful message. Sen. Mitch McConnnell doesn’t get IT, but Sec. of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is taking IT to him right now. There’s a lesson in there for others who want to make a profession out of opposition. Whether it is President Obama or another public official, the person who tries to get something done is usually going to get the credit. Pragmatism is a better option than inflexible ideological resistance. Our system thrives on compromise, not gridlock.

Angry, angry, angry—we have had enough of that since 2009.

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes


‘Checking the Property’ — for Presidents’ Day

Here’s a hat tip to the climate-change demonstrators in Washington, D.C., who are speaking on behalf of the planet this holiday weekend. Lowelltown is as white tonight as the monuments in the capital city. I wrote this poem after a family trip to Washington in the summer of 2004. There were John Kerry-for-President signs in the windows. GOP posters for “W,” too. Barack Obama was a figure on the horizon. — PM


Checking the Property

My nine-year-old son says, “I’m going to read the ‘Gettysburg Address’”—on the other side is the lesser-known second inaugural speech. What’s the Lincoln shorthand? Freed the slaves; saved the union. People crowd the marble steps at dusk. A sign asks for silence. When he sees my wife lining up a snapshot, a guy in a straw cowboy hat offers to take a picture of my brother’s family, my wife, son, and me in the glow of the civic temple. Climbing the steps, I caught sight of the figure set behind the columns, and then lost him because of the steep ascent, only to come upon the sculpture again near the top, where visitors gaze at the huge seated president, whose massive square-toed boot juts out, looking as if it could kick Jeff Davis’ football the length of the Reflecting Pool and onto the white spike of the Washington Monument, which, in the after-supper hour, reflects sun along its narrow western face, a mighty glo-stik on the national common, a staunch obelisk, a big white numeral standing for the first president, who set the constitutional republic in motion, the stone blocks a different shade on the top half, marking a stop in work and resumption, the monument telling its own story, one in which protesters rolled cut stones into the drink, foreshadowing later protests and rallies and comings together, like the 1963 March on Washington that brought Martin Luther King to these same steps to declare his dream of a nation at last free for all, the same steps where Joan Baez and Bob Dylan sang for justice and where Dylan returned to sing for Bill Clinton’s booming inaugural, the same steps from which movie-land Vietnam vet Forrest Gump spoke, and from which he spotted his life-long love and source of ache splashing toward him, the same pool in which the spaceship crashed in the Planet of the Apes remake, this electric stretch of public land without timber or copper, a wide open space in which to make a verb of America—to recall and celebrate and to do democratic research and development in this red clay-lined lab, bordered and crowded with evidence of the ongoing experiment, and bearing key formulas and equations inscribed in stone.


—Paul Marion (c) 2004


Uncle Dave’s Review of the Speech

I haven’t dragged David “Uncle Dave” Brooks over here for a long time. He was irritating during the presidential election, trying to find ways to stay on Mitt Romney’s side—every once in a while he gave it up for the President, but I think Uncle Dave was always pulling for Mitt. In his NYTimes column today, he admires the inaugural address given yesterday for its bold liberal/progressive vision of a nation that does best when the citizens act together to accomplish important objectives. Uncle Dave admits he is partly in Barack Obama’s camp, but that big things can be scary and dangerous if too much power is concentrated at the top. It’s always interesting to see conservatives warning about big government being dangerous, but usually giving big concentrations of wealth, especially huge corporate entities, a free pass. The big market is OK by them, until, of course, it isn’t, as when “the market” or “the street” crashes its limousine into a brick wall. At that point “the market” wants help from “the government,” which is the rest of us.

Notice that he uses the word “collective” in his column. That’s a loaded term for the Right Wing, a hint that President Obama is way over there on the Left side of the spectrum where the socialists and communists hang around. Collectivism and collectivist are words with a creepy Soviet tinge. He could have written “community.” After all, Obama was a community organizer at the start in Chicago.

Why do I call him Uncle Dave? We’re about the same age. He’s a thoughtful guy who has made a career of trying to be the serious one in the room. He’s the guy who likes telling everybody to “calm down.”  He can be very funny. I laughed when reading his book “Bobos in Paradise.” He’s a good speaker—I heard him at a conference years ago and watch him on TV when I can. I think he would be happier if he gave up on the national Republicans and sat at the Democrats’ table in the cafeteria more often.

Here’s his opinion piece about President Obama’s speech. Please get the NYT if you want more.

Half-n-Half, Still

A while back I wrote about the perplexing “half-n-half” character of the American electorate. On Morning Joe today the hosts ran through the polls in battleground states and nationwide, showing a virtual tie between the President and his challenger. This, after two years of the Republicans making a case against the President on the campaign circuit and following about five months of the final choice in front of us: Pres Obama and Gov Romney. Each candidate was able to amass outrageous amounts of money. Each one in turn brought together on occasion tens of thousands of followers in rallies. The political contest brought to light wildly unacceptable conditions for voters in some states. It is unAmerican to be forced to wait five hours to vote by bureaucrats who are charged with making the election system function in a rational way. Free speech allowed at times for stunning accusations and despicable charges, which is totally American in form and content. Politics has never been clean. Ask Jefferson. Ask Adams. We can live with that. The citizen’s job is to sort through the muck and smoke to find a believable explanation of what is going on and where your candidate wants to take you. I remain baffled, however, by the way the numbers break down. It all seems so improbable in a nation of more than 300 million people. How can the subset of voters hear and see one thing in Alabama and a quite different thing in California? How does our extreme pluralism fall into 50-50 splits in state after state? It’s not like I know what somebody in Idaho is doing, and am taking the opposite side just to be contrary. This is how the jelly beans spill out on the floor, red to one side, blue to the other, pretty much in equal amounts.

I heard one analyst with Chris Matthews say last night that whichever side loses will “be aggrieved.” In a winner-take-all system as we have, the loser has to swallow hard. It’s not like one group gets the Presidency and the other group gets the Vice Presidency. The designers of our political system worried a lot about minority rights and the potential tyranny of the majority, but the election system gives complete domination to the person who earns 50.1 percent. Even more bizarre, someone tomorrow could win the popular vote and lose the electoral college vote. We’ve seen it before. Add that to the toxic cocktail that may be on the table Wednesday at 12:01 a.m. Think about what a cleansing effect a 70 percent result for one candidate would have. I had not seen a positive figure in that range for ages, until last week when President Obama’s approval rating for his handling of Hurricane Sandy was reported in the media. It think the number was about 68 percent in one poll. What a relief to see some agreement. The old quart bottle of Half-n-Half got smashed on the sidewalk.