Notes on the Breakfast Table, Page 1
Sometimes I think that writers on social or political matters have an obligation not to participate in the processes or events of which they write. It is much more difficult, for example, to speak ill of a player whom one likes personally, or through whom one wishes to gain advantage. And surely both analysis and literary force suffer when cogent details become advisably withheld or generalized so as to avoid causing personal offense. (Note that I offer no specific examples.)
On the other hand, I wonder whether a writer can accurately understand topics such as politics without having first-hand experience of the emotional as well as intellectual forces involved. I can’t help but think, for example, that there are important lessons to be found in the relief that I felt upon discovering that the last two seats available at the East Bay GOP Breakfast were — although at a table being circumnavigated by Mayor Laffey as I sat — next to representatives of the Chafee campaign.
Lessons from that particular experience I’ll leave for further rumination, turning instead to those deriving from the presentation of the event’s host, Representative Bruce Long. As preface and intermissions to the speeches of the event’s two special guests, the soft-spoken Rep. Long offered, most prominently, a running back-slapping list of the elected officials and candidates present in the room. Such are the necessities of political life, but in a gathering of approximately seventy people, it made gratuitously conspicuous the high percentage of insiders. (Indeed, Mayor Laffey’s family alone contributed about 8% of the headcount.)
Perhaps by way of explanation for the copious recognition that he doled out, Rep. Long noted the lack of brave souls willing to enter Rhode Island politics on the side of the right (loosely speaking). With so many Republicans “afraid to be sacrificial lambs,” in Long’s words, a bit of ritualized encouragement of those who’ve stepped forward is certainly not too much to ask the rest of us to endure.
I would suggest, though, that obligatory clapping is less likely to encourage the lambs than would a clear enunciation of what, exactly, they are sacrificing for. Rep. Long may assert that Rhode Island’s Republican Party is in its current state of perpetual minority “not because of the issues,” but because of the aforementioned lack of people. Party chairwoman Patricia Morgan unintentionally contradicted him, however, when she stole five minutes at the end of the meeting to announce that the party is finally getting around to piecing together a platform.
It could be argued, I suppose, that the RI GOP’s difficulties couldn’t possibly be “because of the issues” when the group has yet to take any explicit stands on them. The hope and excitement fostered by the forceful speeches of attorney general candidate Bill Harsch and Mayor Laffey argue otherwise.