You may rightly ask, what is Wasington Irving’s famous villain doing in a 4th of July parade? The real answer is that the school master (Jesse Merwin c.1809) of Kinderhook was supposedly the inspiration for Irving’s character Ichabod Crane. As such, the horseman makes periodic, incongruous appearances around here other than Halloween. Upon further reflection, though, I must ruefully admit that there could not be a more appropriate symbol for the worst in us Americans than a homicidal ghost without a head. I’ve come to think of the horseman in our 4th of July parade as a cautionary specter, a reminder that as a society we tend to bang around headlessly quite often.
I’m certainly not the first to recognize the paradox that the “information age” has rendered citizens less informed than ever. And there’s nothing politically discriminatory about rampant headlessness. There seem to be about as many liberals propagating nonsense out there as conservatives. While I lean toward solidarity with the folks occupying Wall Street right now, I am also fully aware that the majority of that crowd couldn’t tell you any more about how Wall Street works than a Tea Partier could tell you about, well, the “Boston Tea Party,” for example.
Obama’s getting pounced on by FOX News types for saying that “Americans have grown soft and lost their competitive edge…” They claim that he’s trying to shift the blame from himself to the public for the ongoing economic crisis; and FOX will no doubt rally its hard-working viewers into a frenzy by convincing them that the president just called them all “lazy.” FOX is labeling it Obama’s “malaise” moment, referring to an address to the nation by President Carter on the flailing economy of the 1970s. The opportunity to compare Obama to Carter is too good to pass up because we all know Carter was such a bad president, don’t we?
Of course, one of the reasons people didn’t, and still don’t, like Carter is because he has a head. In fact, Carter is worse than an intellectual; he’s been downright prophetic about some things; but that also means saying things that people don’t want to hear. Remember Reagan laughingly tearing down Carter’s (admittedly symbolic) solar panels from the White House? That was a wonderfully headless moment in American history. Who knows where we’d be if we’d invested in renewable energy in 1978. If you think Americans resent cold facts that don’t square with their biases of the moment, then anything tending toward prognostication will send them into an absolute headless tizzy.
Unfortunately, we’ve got nothing but prognostication at the moment. The here-and-now is a disaster and will probably get worse; and there are no policies that will mitigate the disaster in the span of a single presidency. As a result, the GOP are burnishing up a slate of some of the most headless individuals ever to grace the political stage; and the democratic base is angry and disappointed without any particular direction — again.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a very American tale, but one without any heroes. Ichabod Crane is a cad and a freeloader; Abraham “Brom Bones” van Brunt is sort of an obnoxious jock; and Katrina is a scamp, who uses the cad’s affections to stoke the ardor of the jock. It’s basically a high school horror story in which the horseman becomes a kind of dark angel of judgment, destroying a character more worthy of pity than empathy. Perhaps it’s no accident that this phantom is a slain Hessian, symbolizing a revolution not yet won.