Awash in Island Politics

Originally posted: September 29, 2006

MARTHA’S VINEYARD, Mass. — Mack, the Edgartown maintenance engineer, pulled his truck onto the curb and trotted across the street toward our huddle of cyclists pondering a map. In a trice he untangled the snarl, delivered a restaurant recommendation and two points of legal advice. “Edgartown has an ordinance against riding bikes in town,” he said, “So park them where you come to the white picket fence by the park.” Then, wagging an index finger, he added, “However, Massachusetts state law says you can ride a bike on any street in the commonwealth. So if the cops bother you, just tell ‘em you know the statute and you’ll be fine.” No charge.

Martha’s Vineyard is an island 80 miles from Boston with a winter population of 15,007, swelling to 105,624 during the summer season.

Our volunteer lawyer is part of what’s called African Diaspora Vineyarders, black Americans who first came to this island as “enslaved servants,” working the land of farmers. Today, residing mainly along the Eastern seacoast, they represent one of the highest concentrations of black residents anyplace in the Bay State. Thus, the “Deval Patrick for Governor” yard signs left over from last week’s primary outnumber all the others put together.

Patrick headed the civil rights division in President Clinton’s Justice Department, and this is his first foray into elective politics. He won the three-way Democratic primary, carrying half the vote statewide, but two-thirds on the Vineyard. Seeking to become the first black elected governor of Massachusetts, he now faces Kerry Healey, the lieutenant governor, who would like to become the first woman governor. The winner will succeed outgoing Republican Mitt Romney, now a presidential hopeful.

Massachusetts political gossip this week was mostly about the confrontation between President Clinton and Fox News anchor Chris (son of Mike) Wallace. Wallace seemingly implied that Clinton had been indifferent to the threat of Osama bin Laden during his eight years in office.

The former president, however, was having none of it. To decode the moment it helps to be familiar with “The Definitive Book of Body Language,” newly issued. Outraged at Wallace’s question, Clinton spreads his legs, in what’s called a “crotch display” (sign of dominance), invading his antagonist’s personal space he repeatedly and aggressively thrusts his finger at the interviewer’s notes, which rested in Wallace’s lap (covering his genitals). It was a classic Clinton temper tantrum, as he angrily retorted: “I worked hard to try to kill (Osama). I got closer to killing him than anyone else.”

“He lost it,” Wallace told a conservative radio talk-show host, “he was poking my notes . . . his hand was trembling . . . you could see his eyes twitching.” The replays on network news revealed trembling on both sides. Great political theater, illuminating very little.

In fact, Clinton did make the only actual attempt to kill bin Laden, launching a salvo of cruise missiles at an al-Qaida training camp after two American embassies were bombed in Africa. Another military effort, for which Clinton gets little credit because it came during the Monica frenzy, was his missile attack on Saddam Hussein’s nuclear facilities. Condemned at the time as a “Wag the Dog” diversion from growing demands for impeachment, it is now believed that attack discouraged Saddam from all further efforts to develop WMDs.

So it goes this week from Martha’s Vineyard.

Ken Bode, a former CNN and NBC political analyst, contributed to the book, The Clinton Riddle: Perspectives on the Forty-second President.


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