Updated: May 29, 2013 7:44AM
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.
— Woody Guthrie, 1944
For what it’s worth, almost everybody in Arkansas who can find Massachusetts on a road map was appalled by state Rep. Nate Bell’s grotesquely inappropriate Twitter post. At the height of the manhunt for the Boston marathon bombers, the Republican Arkansas legislator said, “I wonder how many Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their homes wishing they had an AR-15 with a hi-capacity magazine?”
Reaction from New England was swift, often witty and rarely polite.
“Go put on a pair of shoes and fry me up some squirrel, Gomer,” my pal Charles Pierce wrote on his Esquire blog. In a post titled “Bite Me,” he urged readers to remind Bell “that God loves him as he loves all mouthy hicks.”
Joe Keohane, the Boston-bred columnist, was less circumspect: “Might want to take a flight up north and try saying that in person, you waterheaded, little-d k hillbilly a hole.”
Note to Nate: Anybody who thinks Boston’s a city of Perrier-sipping pantywaists has clearly spent no time there.
It didn’t help that in photos Bell looks less like a Navy Seal than a guy who’s never assaulted anything more lethal than the buffet table down at the Squat ‘n’ Gobble Barbecue Shack. Many Bostonians speculated that his fondness for big guns originated in less-than-robust manliness. Southerners are sometimes surprised to learn that when provoked, New Englanders remember the Civil War too — particularly the Irish.
Back home, Arkansans long sensitive to being caricatured as ignorant hayseeds urged Bell to resign. My sainted wife, a lifelong Arkansan (apart from our three long-ago years in Massachusetts), summed things up wearily. “Oh my God,” she said. “He’s just pathetic.”
“Redneck” remains the last socially acceptable ethnic slur in American life. Fools like Rep. Bell help make it so. It’s a wonder the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce or the Parks and Tourism people didn’t have him kidnapped and transported to Mississippi.
Then, after the big dope said he was sorry for the unfortunate “timing” of his remarks, Davy Carter, the Speaker of the Arkansas House, and also a Republican, had the decency to post a proper apology:
“On behalf of the Arkansas House of Representatives and the state of Arkansas, I want to extend my deepest apologies to the people of the City of Boston and the state of Massachusetts for the inappropriate and insensitive comment made this morning by an Arkansas House member. I can assure the people of Boston and the people of Massachusetts that Arkansans have them in their thoughts and prayers during this tragic time.”
Of course they do.
Indeed, if there’s any good to come from evil acts like the Boston Marathon bombing, it’s to remind Americans that the things binding us together as a people far outweigh our differences. In all the rage and sorrow, the words that rang truest to me came from the bombers’ immigrant uncle Ruslan Tsarni and a baseball player from the Dominican Republic.
Uncle Ruslan urged his surviving nephew Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to turn himself in and beg forgiveness. Maybe he needn’t have said that his brother’s sons had shamed and embarrassed all Chechen immigrants, because we don’t do — or we’re not supposed to do — collective racial and ethnic guilt here in America. But anybody who grew up with first- and second-generation immigrant families knows exactly where he was coming from.
Uncle Ruslan allowed his nephews no excuses. He found their alleged religious motives fraudulent and contemptible. More than that, he spoke in terms of bedrock Americanism common to Boston, Little Rock and his Maryland home. “I love this country which gives [everybody] a chance to be treated as a human being,” he said.
And then came Big Papi, David Ortiz, a beloved bear of a man who briefly addressed a Fenway Park crowd after a pregame memorial service. Gesturing to his chest, Ortiz pointed out in Spanish-accented English that on that day his uniform shirt didn’t say Red Sox.
“It say Boston,” he said. “This is our f-----g city, and nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.”
Expletive and all, it said what everybody felt. The crowd erupted in a spontaneous roar.
Sitting halfway across the country in front of a TV set at my home on a gravel road in darkest Arkansas, I have to tell you, I damn near cried.
Gene Lyons is a columnist for the Arkansas Times.