Volume 76, Number 26 | November 15 - 21, 2006

Talking Point

It’s a new day in America and the sun is shining

By Jerry Tallmer
I’m singing in the rain,
Just singing in the rain.
What a glorious feelin’,
I’m happy again …

It rained hard, all day, here in New York, on Wednesday, November 8, 2006 — rained cats and dogs, as my father would have said — but through all that downpour the sun was shining a billion candlepower right over my head wherever

I put down a soggy foot — in precise opposite to the little black cloud that follows Dogpatch’s Joe Bfstplk around wherever he goes. Under that sun my heart, after a half-dozen withering years in the desert, was singing — breathing — once again, as it once did on certain great mornings long ago.

Suddenly, lost in reverie, I see my father in his 30s and myself age 11 or so as we’re waiting for a train in Westchester to take us somewhere else in Westchester where my father is going to play golf with the business colleague whose name I disremember but who’s also in this scene. My father is dressed in what I believe were called Plus Fours — plaid knickers — and a light sweater, as is his golfing companion. They are talking politics and economics. My father, Albert F.

Tallmer, works weekdays at a desk in the 500 Fifth Avenue headquarters of the U.S. Rubber Reclaiming Corp., a nothing little company that a dozen years from this moment, after the Japanese have seized all the rubber plantations of the Pacific rim, will become a very big little company indeed. But now, 1931, this country and the world and my father and his business friend and everyone else are mired in a terrifying and debilitating Great Depression that in the U.S. has put apple sellers on every street corner and filled the radio with the ironies of “Mr. Herbert Hoover / sees a rainbow in the sky, / so let’s have another cup of coffee, / and let’s have another piece of pie.”

Irony: If George W. Bush had one drop of irony in his blood — irony, not smugness, not smirking, not sarcasm, not fraternity-boy superiority — we wouldn’t be where we are today. Or were until, God be thanked, Tuesday, November 7, 2006.

“This Roosevelt,” my good, safe (but far from conservative) father says to his golf mate. “This young Franklin Roosevelt. What do you think of him? I wonder if he might be able to change things.”

And a year later, when the sun came out, he voted for him.

We now cut to Madison Square Garden in the fall of 1935, where the president of the United States is giving his final speech before the election in which he is running for a second term, and I am standing on a folding chair, cheering madly, braced against my father’s back, in the midst of 18,000 people, as F.D.R.’s glorious trumpet is saying: “…and for all these things, we have only just begun to fight!”

Several nights later my father and I are standing amidst a huge crowd in Times Square, watching the state-by-state results being posted on the electric billboard, and my father is gleefully, Literary Digest in hand, checking off the states the Literary Digest said would go to Alf Landon but that went to Roosevelt instead. F.D.R. got all but Maine and Vermont. The journalistic debacle put the Literary Digest out of business.

And the morning after that election the sun came out, and stayed out, and you could walk down the sidewalk like floating on air and feeling that the whole city of New York and a huge hunk of this whole bright, intelligent, wonderful country — its cobwebs of fear and privilege swept away by the new broom of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harold Ickes and Harry L. Hopkins and Frances Perkins and all the rest of them — was floating right along with you. It was a lot like those mornings in those years after Joe Louis, the night before, had won another big one.

In the fall of 1939 I was up in the snows of New Hampshire, heeling on (bucking to make the staff of) The Dartmouth, the oldest college newspaper in America, and the main Republican paranoid tool against F.D.R. — drummed endlessly into the nation’s brain — was the shibboleth of the Third Term. That day-after-Election Day, too, the sun came out on the melting snow, and the headline we flung in huge type across the front page of The Dartmouth was “ROOSEVELT GETS THIRD TERM.”

Not unlike — 66 years later, across the front page of The New York Times: “DEMOCRATS TAKE HOUSE.”

Two days later to be followed, miracle of miracles, by “DEMOCRATS TAKE SENATE.”

It is no picnic now, sun or no sun. Iraq is not going to go away. The Islamic worldwide death-lust is not going to go away. The Bush-led (or in any event Bush-fronted) pathological right-wing hatred of anything humane or civilized or supportive is not going to go away. I have lived through a number of presidents (Reagan, Bush Sr., Bush Jr.) whom I could never even think of as presidents — clowns maybe, dangerous clowns dedicated to undoing 70 years of the despised New Deal — and have lived as well through a great many Democratic would-be presidents (George McGovern, Michael Dukakis, John Kerry, etc., etc.) who were clowns even more dangerously damaging to the hopes and dreams of their own constituents (us).

What is needed to save this country at this moment is Danton’s “de l’audace, encore de l’audace, toujours de l’audace [et la France est sauvée],” but I do not see any of the necessary fire in the belly anywhere in sight, not even (as yet) from Nancy Pelosi or Barack Obama (even though he has a book out with “audacity” in the title) or whoever. Perhaps something like it from Howard Dean, if he can keep himself under control.

Meantime, God be blessed, the sun is shining, and —
I’ve a smile on my face.
I walk down the lane
With a happy refrain,
Just singin’,
Singin’ in the rain.

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