LIKE BARBARO, WILL AMERICA NEVER SHINE AGAIN?
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- With all the unnecessary carnage in Iraq, the babies blown to bits, the blood feuds, the women mowed down by rifles, the estimated 2,455 Americans dead, the estimated 19,000 to 48,000 Americans returning without arms, legs or eyes, along with the horror of Darfur, the AIDS epidemic in India, Africa, Russia and China - in fact, with the immense amount of human suffering on the planet, I'm having a hard time explaining to myself how I got so worried about a horse.
The horse, of course, of course, was the undefeated Barbaro.
Barbaro thrilled me in the Florida Derby, where he danced out ahead of everyone else. I won money on him in the Kentucky Derby. I had several bets on him, including a few exactas, in the Preakness.
Oh, he was rambunctious on Preakness day, finely tuned, full of energy and heart. Like an Olympic speed skater he jumped the gun at the starting gate, then broke clean at the true start and began cutting through the field.
All eyes were on him then, and I don't just mean the steady track-rat viewers of ESPN, or the johnny-come-lately NBC crowd, or the 118,442 drunken fans in the infield at Pimlico. He seemed like a natural to win the Triple Crown, and because of that the eyes of the whole country were on him.
So, moments after the Preakness began in earnest, when Barbaro's jockey, Edgar Prado, pulled him up, jumped off and held him steady, and as trainer Mike Matz dashed out of the stands with an anguished look on his face, everyone was aghast. This was a blessed horse. And in front of all of us the blessing fled.
The race continued. It was won by Bernardini - hold on for the irony here - owned by Sheik Mohammad, the fascinating and hawk-eyed ruler of oil-rich Dubai.
But most of us were no longer focused on the race. Instead, we were heartsore and horrified. Barbaro had three breaks in his leg. One bone fractured into 20 pieces. Gloom set in where anticipation had been drinking champagne.
"It's only a horse," some people shrugged. "That's horse racing," said others.
For many others, though, depression followed. A black cloud descended on me, I can tell you that. And it wasn't a gloom brought on by the winning tickets I wouldn't be cashing. It was about seeing something so bright and fine and eager cut down in its prime.
Barbaro was starting to look more and more like a symbol.
But a symbol of what, I wondered?
In the same way that the Depression needed Seabiscuit, I decided, America needed Barbaro now.
It's not a perfect comparison. Seabiscuit was a beaten-down horse who was rescued and allowed to be the winner that he always was inside. He was a metaphor for all the whipped, jobless, hungry Americans who badly needed to be rescued and allowed to be the winners they always knew inside they could be. It was Roosevelt who rescued those Americans, and it was World War II they won for him.
Different times call for different metaphors. Barbaro was a million-dollar race horse, groomed and trained and primed and gleaming. He was unbeaten and everyone knew he was the strongest, fastest horse in the field.
Americans identified with Barbaro. We loved him. We needed him to win the Preakness. Then we needed him to win the Belmont Stakes, and then to be the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
We needed a superhorse, a horse that loved to run, a horse that could gladden our hearts and reflect back to us what we used to think was the best of ourselves - our strength, our beauty, our courage, our joy in the game, our speed, our heart. Reflect back to us the things that I think we now know, deep in our hearts, we have lost.
Outrage and anger has gotten me through the long, long years of the Bush Administration, through the lying and deceit and killing and looting and the destruction of our precious Constitution. Outrage and anger has gotten me through as I watch my fellow Americans become complicit in acts we have all loathed in others: as we torture, threaten and jail journalists, distribute propaganda, build high border walls and spy on our own citizens.
Outrage and anger as I watch America turn into Cold War East Germany - or the old U.S.S.R.
I thought outrage and anger would get me the rest of the way, but when Barbaro broke his leg - threatening his life and certainly ending his racing career - I recognized, with a shock, that the Bush years are irreparable, too. Real damage has been sustained. We can't just go in and fix things when President Bush leaves office.
Maybe we can pay down the national debt - for all his faults, Bill Clinton managed to do that after the wastrel Reagan-p> I years. Maybe we can get out of Iraq. Nixon, for all his faults, managed to get us out of Vietnam. But our hands will never be clean again: we will never be able to wash them of Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib or Afghanistan or the innocents who have died in Iraq. We will never be a nation of jobs and homeowners again. We will not see a strong middle class again for a long, long time.
Barbaro underwent five hours of surgery. According to all reports, he's happy and frisky. He can even balance himself well enough to scratch his left ear with his left hind leg. But he'll never run again, splendid and strong, all heart and courage and soul.
And neither will America.< Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics and economics. A collection of her columns, "A Thousand Words or Less," is available through http://www.joycemarcel.com. Write her at email@example.com.