We Interrupt This Broadcast for a Moment of Rank Cynicism

by Caleb Stegall on December 1, 2009 · 24 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Short

Patrick just posted that the great man himself was heard describing Michelle ma’ Belle’s kitchen garden as the “most important plot of land in America.”

Patrick tells me that in context, Berry was talking about how everyone should grow something on his property, and that as such, the White House garden was symbolically meaningful.

How very disappointing.  That “plot of land” on which sits the “people’s house” is the antithesis of virtually everything Mr. Berry stands for, or has stood for.  Though it pains me greatly to say, Mr. Berry, you been snookered, bamboozled, razzle-dazzled, flim-flammed, chickidee-chanooked, snozzled, slam-damn-zlled, snizzle-wizzled … or whatever folk neologism they use in the backwoods of the Kentucky River watershed near Lane’s Landing.  Surely, Mr. Berry, you and your neighbors have some long practiced folk remedies (perhaps involving the days pluckings) for peddlars of crackling lies posturing as home spun remedies?

I’m afraid Mr. Berry’s belief that the Obama garden is meaningful is akin to saying that the symbolism of GWB hauling brush on his ranch for a photo op was meaningful.

gwb mo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At least GWB was man enough to pick up the log and not send his wife out to do the dirty work!  And at least he knows enough to put on some work clothes, and gloves!  Yeah, I can see my wife working our garden in that outfit.

Patrick further informs me that at minute 24 here, the great man says that the Obama garden “offers a kind of permission from the First Family to other families to look upon their dooryards as possibly productive of food.”

The very notion of needing such “permission” from the first family, or of even deigning to allow such servile talk to creep into our political discourse, is so absolutely repellant to me that I will just have to go on loving Berry despite his obvious failure to cope with the function and degradations of national politics.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Patrick J. Deneen December 4, 2009 at 10:13 am

Caleb,

I broadly sympathize, and was a bit jarred myself at that moment in the broadcast. But, the funny thing is, it’s those very people who are likely to be most fawning over Obama who are also most likely to hire immigrant laborers to do their yardwork, and to see their yard as nothing other than a status symbol. The symbolism of a White House garden (tended by a chic and post-modernly dressed First Lady) is clearly deficient in all sorts of ways, but it’s also symbolism that has proven sufficiently upsetting enough to the agri-business industrialists that they have engaged in a letter-writing campaign to criticize its implied endorsement of small-scale, family, organic gardening. So, I’m willing to cut both Mrs. Obama and Mr. Berry a bit more slack than you on this one.

avatar D.W. Sabin December 4, 2009 at 10:50 am

Sometimes, when you have been barking for so long into the void as Mr. Berry has, any sign of rightly ordered priorities, no matter how staged, makes the barker want to enjoy the act of rolling over for a belly scratch. Sometimes, said belly scratches make a hound sentimental….. but the mood wanes and barking can resume once again.

With the look of those two spotless civilians attempting to bust sod with a damned fool rake, I don’t think agribusiness has much to be afraid about. Now, if the Happy Shoppers of this Country could Garden and see Flashily Packaged Produce erupt out of the soil, we might get to the promised furrow. Many a new gardener in the wet northeast was roundly disappointed this summer with the Tomato Blight. We’ll see how much persistence they exhibit.

To be sure though Caleb, the photos of the previous President and the current First Lady are of a matched pair…..little moments of reglarfolkisms for the thoroughly neutered public to snack on while their future is bored out by these Termites of Empire.

avatar Byron Borger December 4, 2009 at 11:03 am

Caleb,

Wow, you are, as always, fun and feisty, and mostly right. Is there not some importance though of “symbolism” and a bully pulpit? Okay, folks raised in the big city don’t know how to dress for gardening. And certainly they don’t have to give “permission” to do good stuff, but the making of this garden, doing it, and talking about it, surely is a baby step in the right direction. Berry is not saying (is he?) that the Obama worldview or policy packages are the most important, but that this plot, this redemptive gesture, is important. Perhaps you were a bit bamboozled by your own eagerness to slam Mrs. O—and dressed like that, she’s an easy target– and thereby read way too much into Berry’s one statement. Why do you extrapolate from his affirmation of the importance of the gesture to suggest he has been snookered by the first family? He didn’t affirm their policies, did he?

And, to Mr. Deneen: If Caleb slightly overstated his concern, your statement that those who are likely to be most fawning are “most likely” to hire illegal immigrants is such a vast overstatement that I can only call it ridiculous. I know dozens of people who fawn over the President and not a one of them hire anybody to do their lawns. Some of them don’t even have lawns. And, some of them are illegal immigrants. What world do you live in to even think in such broadly generalized categories? Perhaps you need to get out more, and meet some of the fawners you so unfairly accuse.

avatar Bob Cheeks December 4, 2009 at 11:34 am

Oh, my goodness!
Wendell, dude, tell me you didn’t say it!
There’s something about Kentucky and them commie-Democrats!
I shall be in mourning.

avatar D.W. Sabin December 4, 2009 at 1:36 pm

Dearest sdf,
I want to go on record as testifying to the fact that I once saw Farmer Stegall Esq. wax positively rapturous over his matched pair of Swine, despite their appointment with a bucket and the rather parched nature of their wallow. I also witnessed his admiration for Whitman once, though he almost apologized for it before coming to his senses.

As to his curmudgeonly pursuits, he holds the Lundy Memorial Cup and must keep up his chops lest I take it from him and it would not do at all to have an Eastern Pencil Neck holding that prize, transplanted from the birthplace of Bennie DeVoto or not.

After all, with the great majority of the ijits of this depauperate Republic gone wooly headed over some foolish concept of aborning “change”, there is need for skepticism….strident, persistent, florid or otherwise.

avatar freddy December 4, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Servile is right. Vom. It.

avatar Junker December 4, 2009 at 3:21 pm

Rage against the machine, thats what this boils down too. The white house is not where our supreme overlords, kings, monarchs or even bosses live. Its where the ultimate public servant SHOULD be living. Sadly, the politico self serving, bastard pigdogs took over the joint a long time ago. I for one refuse to hail them as being associated in any way with “the most important peice of land in america”. The most important piece of land in america is the one I own, period. not the piece of land occupied by the ones trying to own me.

Rage against the dying of the light!

Keep raging Caleb. A firey rage may be the only sword of damocles we have left, even if it is just on the internet. God forbid we ever have a firey rage in the real world.

-Junker

avatar Daniel December 4, 2009 at 9:45 pm

If the current residents of the White House are so into self-sufficiency, as implied in this “home gardening” stunt, why are they so bound and determined to wrest power from the people and put it in the hands of a bunch of faceless bureaucrats in Washington D.C.?

Is it now a “localist” virtue to support federal government providing symbolic “permission” for people to grow their own food? I think this shows just how deep the Progressivist rot runs in the American character. When people need to look to a couple of ardent big government leftists for approval to be self-sufficient, then the phrase ‘self-sufficient’ is meaningless.

avatar Bill Parsons December 4, 2009 at 9:59 pm

Yeah, them boots just about say it all. Instead of viewing the video I think I’ll stick with my original plan and re-read that copy of Hannah Coulter I checked out of the public library last week.

avatar Patrick J. Deneen December 4, 2009 at 10:09 pm

Byron Borger,
Lighten up – it’s the internet. I’ll provide a detailed and subtle analysis of Obama’s various electoral constituencies and their likely household lawn habits – with footnotes and all accompanying subtle reservations – in a subsequent post.

Not.

You miss my tree-like point for the forest of your indignation. Sadly, there’s a lot of focus on one minor detail of an interview with Wendell Berry that took place on a live radio program. I wouldn’t conclude that this statement reflects his deep consideration of the many implications of what is probably a sense of satisfaction that there’s an organic garden at the White House. After all, this is a man who has been excoriated and damned for decades by the Political and Industrial Powers for being a fringe lunatic – and now there’s an organic garden at the White House. I can’t begrudge the man some degree of felt satisfaction that his life’s work and words may have had some effect – however imperfect – in the world.

That said, if you’re going to draw conclusions about him based on his words, I’d spend some time with his 30+ books before drawing conclusions from 30 seconds on a radio show. Sheesh.

avatar Caleb Stegall December 5, 2009 at 12:18 am

I seem to have touched a nerve. I stand by my comments, both calling Berry a great man (twice!) and critiquing what was, yes, admittedly, a minor portion of a live radio broadcast, but still significant, and significantly wrong, I think.

DW, you can share my chops’n’applesauce any day of the week.

Byron, Patrick. Patrick, Byron. Since I know you both and this here internet gizmo makes normal societal relations so awkward, let me play mediator and vouch for both of you. Which is enough to get you fired in some quarters. But since Byron is an entrepenuerial left-wing localist small bookstore owner in rural PA who has probably read everything Berry has ever written and since Patrick is a tenured radical in the belly of the university beast who has forgotten more than I’ll ever know about Berry, political theories of decentralization, the alternative tradition in America, and pretty much every other subject worth knowing, I guess you’re both as safe as the White House sod under Michelle’ma’Belle’s rake.

avatar Bob Cheeks December 5, 2009 at 8:19 am

Stegall, you have opened a can of worms here.

If I remember correctly Wendell expressed a certain appreciation for those various and sundry political programs that benefited the ‘small’ farmer, which makes him either a political pragmatist or one of the them FDR New Dealers. Nothin’ wrong with that if you think the system, that gets regularly pounded here on the Porch, is salvageable.
However, you’ve also got that enviro-weenie business, and Wendell has been known to run with them people. Plus, he doesn’t hide the fact that he’s a Christian!

So here we have a fellow, arguably America’s most significant living novelist, who likes gummint programs that benefit the small farmer, likes wacky, long-haired, back-to-the-land, enviro-wacko, Yazgur Farm wannabees, and prays to Jesus! AND, on top of that, this righteous dude is praising our first undocumented, Kenyan president and his lovely wife, the ever gracious Michelle ma’ Belle, for having a “organic” garden in the backyard, knowing full well that thanks to her idiot husband’s commie policies everybody damn-well better have a garden in their backyard if they plan on feedin’ the kids next year!

So my concern is that Wendell is turning his back on the Port William Membership! There ain’t none of them people would ever get in a line for a gummint handout, or to vote for some socialist talkin’ about redistributing the wealth!

avatar John Willson December 5, 2009 at 10:04 am

Is Wendell a Christian?

avatar J.D. Salyer December 5, 2009 at 10:19 am

The Obamas, and the Bushies, and the Clintons, the Cheneys, etc. are all cozy members of a global elite class which has and will continue to do everything in its power to eradicate what little is left of Kentucky’s unique historical identity.

To say nothing of mountains of dead babies.

I don’t care if one of ‘em puts up a fence and start raising cattle — none of those folks have anything to do with me or mine.

No disrespect to Mr. Berry intended. Nobody’s perfect. But he is mistaken to give any of Those People any credit whatsoever for their posing and posturing.

It’s like praising Obama for our now having a humbler foreign policy. Ummmm……

“And at least he knows enough to put on some work clothes, and gloves! Yeah, I can see my wife working our garden in that outfit.”

LOL from those lines, Mr. Stegall. If the guys who made SPINAL TAP were to do a movie about politics, the image in question would assuredly appear in it.

Maybe along with a scene where the President works on a Ford assembly line dressed in a polo shirt & khakis.

(I apologize, BTW, for going off the handle a while back over the whole Takimag / Pagan-Christianity thing. It caught me by surprise, and I was somewhat blunter than I perhaps intended.)

avatar Bob Cheeks December 5, 2009 at 11:47 am

Is Wendell a Christian?
I think, yes, very much so, but I can’t tell you what, if any particular discipline he practices. Berry, I think, tries very hard to be a Christian of the “heart,” and doesn’t worry so much about the building. He is, I think, a “wholistic” Christian.
His essay, “God and Country,” in “The Essays of Wendell Berry: What Are People For?” is most telling.
I trust there are those visitors to the Porch who would know more of this question than I do, and I hope they might comment.

avatar D.W. Sabin December 5, 2009 at 2:15 pm

Cheeks,
Now you’ve done it, some of my best friends are …well, maybe were, some maybe still but, to my point, some of my best friends are “wacky, long-haired, back-to-the-land, enviro wacko Yazgur (sic) Farm wannabees”. This is a small sub-culture which generally keeps to itself in the Mountains near Humboldt California and so what if they combine large spliffs, genetically modified crops in guerilla agriculture on public lands with semi-automatic weapons, theirs is at least an original and picturesque…or is that picaresque subculture. They would be the last people to care what kind of foolhardy antics are being sprung in that rathole clusterboink in Washington D.C. and some actually fly the Gadsden Flag, if only for their own specific reasons.

Cheeks, you need to concentrate on a more productive enemies list. Maybe Haldeman might have left something in writing about it. Next thing you know, your compound hit list will include “gay Dog Show groupies” or “wiccan vegetarian lesbian rock climbers” and its going to get complicated.

You need to try harder to be a little more Dude-like. Buy yourself a ratty cardigan, some bermuda shorts and sandals and Dudify Dude.

avatar Bob Cheeks December 5, 2009 at 4:06 pm

DW, as always thanks for your sage advice, no doubt proffered from your cigar smoke shrouded office.

I’m not surprised, that in your salad days you ran with a crowd of mind-blown hippie dudes and dudettes who, I would remind you, are somebody’s grandpa and grandma and doing their best to hide their past in much the same manner a cat covers his droppings.

And, for your information, I own the a copy of the first issue of Mother Earth News published in 1968, I believe!

However, in all honesty, my worst offense was a toke or two. When offered an acid tab by an old friend just returned from the ‘Nam,’ I chickened out, and am forever pleased with my prescient decision to “just say no,” in agreement with Nancy Reagan. My pal lives out on his farm, in a house he built on his own, making furniture and forever doomed to search for his mind…I love the dude!

Again, thanks for the advice!

avatar Josh Cooney December 6, 2009 at 10:41 am

Berry, I believe, regularly attends a Southern Baptist Church. And though I can’t recall the exact titles of certain essays that would prove this to be so, he is very much a Christian and, moreover, writes within the context of Christian tradition, especially as that tradition is manifest in Christian literature from Dante and Chaucer to T.S. Eliot.

avatar D.W. Sabin December 6, 2009 at 12:52 pm

Funny how this stream starts with questioning the good Mr. Berry’s enthusiasms for a certain plot of ground @ the White House and then descends into a dissection of his Faith…….as though it has any bearing upon the original moment of enthusiasm or indeed anything, for that matter …ocurring in Foggy Bottom, despite every speech loudly proclaiming an automatic shout out to the Guy Upstairs in his expected unilateral support of our lapsed republic.

Mr. Berry saluted a White House that adds backyard produce to its menu rather than a general Fatwa against Broccoli or Suffi Love Poems about cheeseburgers, deadly pretzels and delicious pork rinds. The central point is that he acknowledges, inadvertently or otherwise…. the fact that the people of this country, against their best interests now treat the White House as though it was the Kaaba at Mecca…waiting patiently for the portents from on high to come down and provide the fundamental signs as to how we must live. Perhaps the Kaaba is an unfortunate metaphor, it is more of the nature of Delphi, complete with intoxicating sulphureous gasses and the gibberish of many well-paid oracles. It sounds more like a Pagan Cult to me than anything having to do with Christianity. Come to think of it, for the decisions currently emanating out of the holy city of legislative devotions, chicken entrails divination would likely suffice.

1,000 of the 1001 cameras in our besotted media are trained upon the Federal District and we think it newsworthy….no matter who utters it…. that someone might characterize a piece of ground bathed in the klieg lights of our continuous attentions as “the most important plot of land in America”? About the time that 501 cameras of the 1,001 are trained anywhere but Washington or its Wars and Financial Chicanery, then it just might be worth our while to note something going on there as though it might be worthwhile or worthy of emulation. Personally, I’d just as soon pull the plug on the entire sorry lot of them. Our federal government has grown beyond moderation to an addiction and with this addiction comes all the various pathologies of addiction, physical and psychological. The dirty curb looks entirely normal to those who inhabit it and like any drunk, this drunk can’t help himself, he is the author of his actions but these actions are set in place by the embrace, not of evil per se but of a weak acquiescence in service to short term gratification that flirts to readily with evil. In other words, whose fault it all is becomes immaterial and secondary to the need for the drunk to step away from his poison, both internal and external.

I think it is good Stegall pointed this out because even those who disdain much of what this government does, remain closely fixated upon it as though this fixation might provide that burn in the gut as the liquor hits its mark…..myself included.

avatar John Willson December 6, 2009 at 2:52 pm

Warn’t dIssectin’, D.W., just askin.’

Mr. Berry waxes eloquent about scythes, likes them better than weed eaters, but Michelle (or Jackie K) couldn’t use either, and insults the ground she pretends to rake. And I don’t for one millisecond care.

But it makes very great difference from what moral angle one starts spoutin.’

The judge in Arkansas who tossed a case out of court and lectured the dumb lawyer who brought it by saying “Don’t try to teach a pig to sing. It can’t be done, and it annoys the pig.” has my question exactly right.

avatar Bob Cheeks December 6, 2009 at 2:54 pm

Emotive, bro DW, emotive. However, Prosecutor Stegall’s initiating blog incorporated a question implicit, and made explicit by Mr. Willson, e.g. the nature of Wendell’s Chrisitianity or lack thereof, and it’s proper expression in contemporary America. Reminding me of Francis Schaeffer’s “How Then Should We Live,” and a question that just keeps on giving.
Mr. Cooney proffered a learned comment or two, much appreciated, but I would like to hear from our academics, and additional fellow interlocutors, re: Berry’s relationship of God, man, and planet. Is he, indeed, Christian, neopagan, world-immanentist…..what? And, in the end, how does the question of ‘religion’ apply to the FPR effort?

avatar Siarlys Jenkins December 6, 2009 at 10:46 pm

Well now, I don’t know how y’all do things on the left coasts, but here in the upper midwest, where we’ve been hemorrhaging good paying jobs for working stiffs since Ronald Reagan decided that deficits don’t matter, most of the people who voted for Obama in 2008 can’t exactly afford to hire yard help, unless it’s the kid across the street. Our Hispanic neighbors have to find jobs with landscaping crews, or out on farms, or in what’s left of manufacturing, or even driving buses, because we do our own yards, if we have any. Now I don’t know that anyone needs permission from the gummint to grow a garden, but its as good a use for the White House lawn as any other. I haven’t been keeping up on Mr. Berry, but if he wants to spin a little extra motivation for people to grow a little of their own food off Michelle’s garden, more power to him. The sad fact is, our population is too large to keep us all fed on little home-grown plots, which is a weakness for both Berry and Obama. We need intensive farming to feed 300 million and growing. But, with the price of gas going up, it may not be economical to fly apples in from New Zealand and truck tomatoes from California while we fly American apples to Norway. So, I’m looking for the day we tear up a subdivision to plant an orchard.

avatar Peter B. Nelson December 15, 2009 at 10:38 am

Bravo, Mr. Stegall. I, too, was disappointed by Mr. Berry’s descent into partisan politics, but managed only a “harrumph” of protest. You put it rather more neatly.

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: