Magical Places and Radical Dreams

Paul Street recently noted in a piece called “Hope Killer for Re-Hire”

that Barack Obama in his 2004 Keynote Speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention called the United States “a magical place”.  Hmmm?  I thought.  Like “Oz”, the Easter Bunny’s garden of eggs, Santa Claus’ workshop, and George Clooney’s bedroom, America as magical is a big fat myth.  (Well, I’ll give you that George’s place could be dreamy).  Oh magical places exist and I have stumbled upon them over the years from starring out at the sparkly lights of Manhattan as a hopeful young person to gazing at the silky Milky Way in Montana as a more wary middle-aged coot.

“Recapturing the magic” usually refers to people revisiting a place where they fell in love,  had a great vacation, or saw Big Sur for the first time with friends.  But those are moments in time not something permanent and fixed.

Here we call Montana, the last best place.    That is also an example of magical thinking.  Yes, it has a really big sky.  Not sure why the sky looks so big, but it does. We are considered high desert but our high desert doesn’t look like the scruffy places you saw in old Westerns.   We have fields of green alfalfa waving in the wind. We have big fluffy clouds that drift idly by as you lay out in the alfalfa field with your Border Collie taking in the smells of the ranch; that curious mixture of manure and sage.  Wallace Stegner hoped that Montana could build “a society to match its scenery.”


But we haven’t.  Montana is vast and beautiful to look at.  But as one woman said a few years back, “I can’t feed my kid scenery. I can’t fix his fever with mountain tops.” Rural poverty is hidden but real.   In 2005, “The Economist” wrote about the poorest counties in America and many of them were in the northern Great Plains that includes Eastern Montana.

Most of those places are north and east of where I live.  I live where the river runs through it.  Actually two rivers and many creeks named after animals like otters, deer, and beaver.  I live where private jets scream overhead on Fridays bringing Italian counts, Wall Street bankers, and other tycoons to hunker down in their log palaces for the weekend.   But off the beaten track down many dirt roads lots of people are just scraping by coming in to the American Legion for a cheap pizza and a beer  or trying not to be seen at the county food bank.   And as the article says, we operate pretty much as a colony. We import 80% of our food because we don’t process anything much here.  I remember visiting the Dingle peninsula in Ireland in 1991 when I was visiting the set of “Far and Away”.  The locals told me that they were fishermen and sheep farmers.  But the fish had to be shipped to The Netherlands to be canned.  And the sheep too were shipped away.  So the jobs were scarce.

Are there places where poverty doesn’t exist?  Can poverty be ended once and for all?  Places like Denmark and Sweden don’t really have slums like we have here and in Calcutta.    But our latest leaders including Obama claim that the best we can do is to take care of the poor and that abolishing poverty is in itself magical thinking.  John Edwards was personally flawed, but Street points out that he took the more radical stand that poverty could be eliminated in this country in 30 years.   Imagine if all of this nation’s energy was geared towards that goal instead of the endless occupation with stealing other people’s stuff.    Imagine.   Yes, there is a world of difference between imagining a better world and believing in magical places and people.

I believe it is better to look at America without the rose colored glasses.  America is not some bright shiny brochure that says on its cover “One America where everybody gets along and anything is possible.”  They sold the pioneers that bill of goods a hundred years ago with pamphlets that promised that plowshares would turn up gold coins from the earth.  There are many dried up towns in Montana that are testaments to those flim flam schemes.

No it’s better to find the user’s manual for this nation and look under the chassis to the moving parts and get to the bottom of what would make this jalopy run again.   There is too much poverty for America to be a “magical place”, but it could once more be a hopeful place if we dedicated ourselves to building a space where there still are some rich people, but there aren’t any poor ones.

Some conventional and radical ideas to start with that shouldn’t be pipe dreams; 1) put the Federal Reserve under Treasury and make debt free money available for infrastructure both physical and human thus putting everybody to work.  2) abolish the Senate.  If we can’t do that, have a constitutional amendment that has each state have one male and one female senator.  Wouldn’t that make sense since half of all humans are female? 3) Have 6 weeks of electioneering and four days of voting.  4) Use Pandora as a model.

Your imaginings whether they are conventional models or radical dreams?

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