Hominy & Hash
POLITICIANS GO FROM 'THE HALLELUJAH TO THE HOOT'
by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- In a thinly-disguised fictional account of the 50-year political career of James Michael Curley, a five-term mayor of Boston and later a Congressman in the seat next occupied by John Fitzgerald Kennedy, I read the line, "It's a short walk from the hallelujah to the hoot."
Edwin O'Connor's runaway best-seller, "The Last Hurrah," told the story of the Mayor (called Skeffington in book, play and later, a movie with Spencer Tracy), who believed everyone should have a job. In his capacity as Mayor, he was able to swell the city payrolls and bribe officials who then gave favors to his constituents (turn on their gas or electricity; fix a speeding ticket) and he even went so far as to take a civil service exam for a friend to assure his passing. That particular little "favor" put hizzoner in jail and today his name is synonymous with dirty politics.
In a city still shamed by having posted signs: "Irish need not apply," we might say his intentions were honorable. But, we'd have to add the old saw "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." He provided jobs, he surrounded himself with "his own kind," but in the process destroyed his reputation.
Americans are quick to praise - but just as quick to condemn. That short walk from the hallelujah to the hoot is on a tight rope and you tread lightly or you'll fall flat on your face.
Ingrid Bergman was our shining star. Hallelujah! She played a saint in Joan of Arc twice a nun, Bells of St. Mary's and Going My Way, and always a lady. She was refreshingly wholesome and a switch from the madcap blondes of the thirties and forties dressed in slinky chemise dresses and feathered hats. Those movies had no discernible plots while as a nun, Ms. Bergman dramatically fought tuberculosis and as St. Joan she was burned at the stake.
It is no wonder Italian director Roberto Rosellini wanted her for his movies - and then for himself. The scandal surrounding the movie being made on the volcanic island of Stromboli spread with greater force than if the volcano itself had erupted. Every newspaper, published the unfolding story, it was part of every newscast and on everyone's lips. She divorced her devoted doctor husband, lost custody of her young daughter, married Rosellini in absentia while giving birth to his twin daughters. We were her judge and jury. How could a chaste saint or celibate nun dare to commit such sin? Hoot!
Although he lived through a few hallelujahs and hoots himself, it New York Daily MirrorWalter Winchell columnist once devoted his space to a poem defending Ingrid Bergman's affair in which each verse ended, "Deliver me Lord from the judgment of the saints who have never been caught." Winchell got that right, but it was many years before Ingrid Bergman returned to perform in an American movie, and never again to her earlier acclaim.
Cassius Clay won the Olympic gold. When he went on to professional boxing, we saw a super-confident young man famous for his poetic bravado as well as his flawless performances in the ring. "I float like a butterfly, sting like a bee," was just one of his oft-repeated lines. We didn't know how to take him but we wanted to knock him off his high horse. In this country, we cheer for the underdog. We liked champion Joe Lewis who humbly said hello to his Mama in post-fight interviews broadcast all over the country.
Then Cassius changed his religion to Islam and his name to Muhammad Ali. As a whole, we didn't understand it and certainly didn't like what we felt was disloyal. Nor did we like it when he tossed his gold medal in the river because of racist policies in America. He protested the draft because he didn't like our policies in Vietnam - and thus went to jail and lost his license to box for his defiance.
It would appear Ali lived through all the hoots and nobody laid a glove on him, so to speak. Now he is beloved by all. He lived and spoke his conscience, never did anything to disgrace his name (either of them) and was named Sportsman of the 20th Century by Sports Illustrated. He lives in quiet dignity and is met with resounding applause whenever he does enter a room. Hallelujah!
George W. Bush started his presidency with a few malaprops and more than a few gaffes. Some of us held our breath and said, "Well, let's give him a chance, how much harm can he do?" While others continued to demand recounting the ballots in Florida.
Then came September 11, 2001 and two men got caught up in a whirlwind of hoots, hails and hallelujahs. Nine years ago, Rudy Giuliani became Mayor of New York. He was hailed as the best thing ever to happen to the city. He threw out the pimps and prostitutes slinking around Times Square, he had the streets swept by able-bodied welfare recipients, and he built a police force to both protect and defend the citizens.
In time, one of those policemen shot a man reaching for his wallet. The policeman thought it was a gun. Giuliani defended the policeman. Hoot! they yelled. New York is a city on constant high alert - policemen have been shot because they paused thinking a suspect was reaching for a wallet, when instead a gun was drawn.
Giuliani further muddied his reputation in the eyes of his constituents when he acknowledged having a mistress and, defying convention, wanted to move her into the Mayor's mansion while his wife still lived there. Hoot! Cancer forced him to drop out of a Senate race opposite Hillary Clinton, and no one discouraged him. He was down, really down.
For Mayor Giuliani, and for President Bush, a defining moment came at 8:47 a.m. September 11th. They were called upon to do their jobs - and they did them. Of course! Hallelujah!
What I find most interesting is one characteristic both men share: they are unflappable. During the days of counting ballots, the president. went about the business of being presidential, doing his job. Rudy Giuliani diligently ran the city of New York, a formidable task on a good day, not letting flap about his personal life deter him.
We followed our leaders' every move, doing what they asked us to do, acting before they asked us to act. We had no doubt we were in the hands of capable people. After all, we put them there. We deliberately choose leaders who are unflappable. We like that.
And yet, on the whole, we ourselves are very flappable. We make waves. We like to cheer for the underdog - and for the cocky? We do knock them off those high horses.
Going back to our much beloved Muhammad Ali - it's only after he lived a lifetime that we acknowledged he really was "the greatest" and there's still not a mark on his pretty face. He asked us to see that 40 years ago. We have to see for ourselves.
The president is now facing the could'ves and should'ves as news reports demand "What did you know and when did you know it?"
The real question is "What did you hear and what did you believe?" If I heard there were people training to fly multi-cargo jet planes (not to land them, just to fly them), carrying legitimate passports, armed with boxcutters - well, let me stop there. I wouldn't have believed the plan if it were spelled out - not a word of it. Would you?
These hallelujahs will hold up in the light of history - if as we don't give a hoot about party politics.