MY town of Wellesley, Mass., defeated President Bush. It went Bush 5,501, Clinton 6,965, and Perot 2,109.
Of course, any number of the United States' 20,000 cities and towns could say that. And that's terrific. For all the talk of opinion polls, campaign coffers, special interests, media intrusion, GDP, all the abstract, wholesale efforts to describe the American political process, it comes down to your own neighborhood, the people you know, the seniors penciling a line through your name at your address as they hand you a ballot in the local school basement and then penciling you out of a second ledger so yo u can drop your ballot in the oak box.
The Charles River runs through the Newton corner of Wellesley on its way to Boston Harbor. We in Massachusetts, natives or not, still aren't happy about the way fellow Bay Stater Bush dumped on the harbor four years ago when he defeated Mike Dukakis. We likely cared less about Dukakis than about the harbor. There's a lot of good local history - events having to do with religious freedom, democracy, a war for independence - Bush might have stood up for but didn't.
It was the daughters of well-enough-off families here that defeated Bush, as they did fellow Wellesleyan David Locke, longtime Republican leader of the state Senate. Mr. Locke was displaced by Democrat Cheryl Jacques of neighboring Needham. This year for the first time, by some 155 registrants, Democrats had outregistered the GOP in Wellesley.
The concept of the working class is changing in America. The Clinton Democrats have been talking about "the middle class" as a euphemism for working class. They needn't be shy. The flattening of organization structures, the leveling force of computers, the laying off of hundreds of thousands of workers (still disproportionately female), the squeeze on jobs like teaching under government budget cutbacks, the expectation by more women and men that they will have to go it alone, has had an impact.
These same factors have a flip side. More individual Americans realize they must seek innovative ways to find a niche and make a living. Even those displaced who do not strictly have to struggle financially want to make a difference. They don't want to be shelved either in poverty or luxury. They want a role in the community. This is the thousand-points-of-light theme Bush gave us a glimmer of four years ago.
When Bush is retired next January 20 he will join four other living US presidents - Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan. Including Clinton, one-seventh of America's 41 presidents will be alive in our time. Bush will thereafter be accompanied by Secret Service agents; he will not know the freedom us nobodies enjoy to sink into crowds without any clamour for us to give a speech.
All the same, it would be great to have Mr. Bush visit our town so we could thank him. Just for being president. We put on a pretty good veterans' parade. The Boston Marathon comes down our Washington Street, drawing tens of thousands of cheerers-on every April. The lawn behind our landmark city hall is in great shape. We have a lot of landscapers and arborists in our town. Many vote Republican. My barber would want his autograph.
Our president, we read, has been down in the dumps. We don't want that. We demand human perfection of our leaders when we vote on them, but we know better. Elections, like governing, expose a leader to every temptation from flattery to insult. What isn't exposed on the run will be pored over by historians.
I wish Wellesley could offer itself as the first Massachusetts town to fete citizen Bush after Clinton does the inauguration Bible thing. Not that many townsfolk have met Bush, but maybe more than you might think. (My wife once sat at the honored right of then-Ambassador Bush at the United Nations. I've never been able to draw her out about their conversation.) There are Yalies in town and political money-givers. I can't prove it, but several hundred townsfolk may have met Bush personally at one time.
Our high school football team ranks second in the state, after Brockton. The title would draw a big celebration at the playing field down from the square. A football title makes a political reference point of choice in a town like ours.