Although au revoir in French is usually meant as goodbye, its literal translation is “until seeing (you) again.”
It is in that sense that I bid au revoir to the regular weekly pages at The Advocate, to take a big new job in journalism (alas, unannounced yet). You can’t take Louisiana out of the boy, so I surely will be pleading for The Advocate to publish occasional submissions of mine as circumstances permit.
What matters is not that I will want to write again in Louisiana but that Louisiana is so worth writing about. I grew up in Louisiana politics, and I’ve now seen politics up close in multiple states and in the nation’s capital. It’s safe to say nobody else does politics as … well, as exuberantly.
Despite all the jokes that held more than an element of truth until, say, 1995, what set Louisiana politics apart wasn’t its corruption. Other places such as Chicago and New Jersey could always match us on that front. Instead, what set our politics apart was its joyful interweaving with our unique culture. In Arkansas, they don’t fais-dodo, as they do in Opelousas, while awaiting surrogate speakers campaigning for their politically imperiled U.S. senator (Mary Landrieu). In Alabama, they don’t have jazz musicians in funny Styrofoam hats entertaining Uptown crowds while awaiting vote-tally reports for local legislative races, as not-quite-4-year-olds dutifully work the beer taps for the men watching football scores in the corner.
(OK, that was late 1967, but you get the picture.)
Most other states don’t have a history of voter turnouts nearly as high. Most other states (Iowa and New Hampshire excepted, during presidential years) don’t talk politics at the dinner table with such verve — not so much about policies or ideology as about personalities, foibles, showmanship. In Louisiana, for better or worse, at least until recently, politics-as-entertainment was not a vice but … well, if not a virtue, at least a charm.
All of which explains why it’s been such a joy to be back in this milieu for the past 15 months. Louisiana politics, even in this more buttoned-down Republican age in the state, is just more doggone fun than politics elsewhere.
Or at least it was. It might just be that the fun’s last gasp faded out with Mary Landrieu’s Senate campaign last year, which tried to infuse the same spirit into the proceedings but didn’t have the numbers.
From the looks of things, for example, this year’s race for governor will be as entertaining as a corporate auditor’s seminar without a coffee pot.
On one hand, this might be progress: Thoroughgoing scofflaws and demagogues are less likely to take power.
Yet what’s missing, and lamentably so, is a sense that the citizenry is as engaged as it once was. If that impression is true, then the long-term prospects for healthy self-governance are discouraging.
I strongly considered, for this final weekly column, a roundup of the topics that forced their way into this space before: Common Core (please, people, jettison it!); Bobby Jindal’s job performance (less admirable, for sure, than it should have been, especially for the past year, but significantly better than most people now realize); the need for an oil processing fee, but not a shakedown lawsuit, to rebuild wetlands; the Louisiana congressional delegation’s efforts to save a program whereby American military forces buy supplies produced by blind and other disabled American workers; and, of course, the state’s ongoing budget woes.
But on these issues, Louisiana will surely, eventually, produce something halfway approximating effective triage. The civic organism will emerge, peg-legged and jaundiced, but not identifiably dead.
That’s not good enough. If Louisianians don’t regain their sense of self-government as a participatory passion, then something inimitably precious will be lost.
The most effective pure legislator I’ve ever seen, the late Louisiana House Speaker and Senate President John Hainkel, had a habit of putting a jovial arm around any conversationalist’s shoulder, pulling the other person close like a conspirator, and saying — with the enthusiasm of an irrepressible sandlot football quarterback — something like “Man, we’re gonna get this done.”
Louisiana’s citizens need to figure out what their “this” is and re-enter the political playing fields.
New Orleans native Quin Hillyer is a contributing editor for National Review. You can follow him on Twitter, @QuinHillyer.