Last night at the William Inge Festival we paid tribute to the late Jerome Lawrence, one of the authors of Inherit the Wind, with a film and a staged reading of The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail. That play was written at the height of the Vietnam war and focuses very clearly on Henry David Thoreau’s opposition to the Mexican war — “an unjust war” — and the reaction of his fellow citizens of Massachusetts to his refusal to pay taxes to support the war.
Last night at dinner I sat with one of the local residents of Independence. We’ve become friends over the last fourteen years, and while he is a great supporter of the festival and Independence Community College, he is by no means a liberal. His father, who is approaching the age of 95 and was a supporter of Alf Landon (who grew up here), still curses the name of FDR. We go back to the time of the Clinton administration, and he and I used to cheerfully toss barbs back and forth all those years about scandals and morality. I remember that last year he was supremely confident that Bush would get his second term and he said at one point, “You’ll see — W’s gonna pull it off.”
Last night at dinner, though, he was a little subdued when I gave him a couple of pokes about some of the items in the news like the Schiavo case, Tom DeLay, and the nuclear option. “Well, I gotta tell ya, Bobby — those aren’t conservative things going on there,” he said with a touch of a grin. “Dad’s not too happy about that shit.” I asked him if a lot of people around here were paying any attention to it. “We’re not in the middle of nowhere. We have cable TV and high-speed internet, y’know. People watch TV. They see what’s going on.” What do they think of it? I asked. He shrugged. “Most folks want to be left alone. Do for themselves when they can and get what they need when they can’t. Like anywhere.” He shrugged. “‘Course, that’s just one man’s opinion.”
That’s one man in one small town. But I think he’s speaking for a lot of people, and that’s one man’s opinion.