A real loaf of bread is not that hard to make. Flour, water, yeast—that’s all it takes. A little salt and oil may change the flavor and texture for the better, but you can make a better loaf than any you can buy in an American supermarket with just three ingredients and a little heat. I like to bake my bread inside a Dutch oven, to trap the steam so that the loaf will rise better and come out with a perfect crust, but even that is just a matter of technique. I’m convinced that, given enough time and those three ingredients, a monkey could be trained to make an acceptable loaf.
Unfortunately, the current crop of Republican presidential candidates, to a man, do not rise to the level of monkeys. If there is any justification at all for a two-plus year race for the Republican nomination, it’s bread and circuses. Yet, so far as I can see, nothing even faintly edifying has emerged from endless months of staged “debates,” nor anything more amusing than a primate hurling its own scat against the walls of the monkey house at the Milwaukee County Zoo.
Perhaps I’m being a bit unfair to Ron Paul, an intelligent and principled man who does seem like he could be taught how to bake a decent loaf of bread. But, on principle, he would probably insist on buying it from Walmart instead.
None of the other potential nominees gives me reason to believe that he has ever eaten anything than other than store-brand sliced white sandwich bread, preferably the two-pound loaf. Why purchase fresh bread more frequently when you can save a few pennies by buying in bulk? Besides, the chemicals and conditioners in commercial sandwich bread keep it from going stale or even molding! Isn’t American ingenuity great? (In New Hampshire, Rick Perry bobs and weaves behind a podium, making “jazz hands” as he gaily pronounces each syllable of the word ingenuity.)
Victor Hugo could not quite yet set an updated version of Les Misérables here in Rockford, but unless things change soon, the day is coming when Jan Johanson will do his 20 years just for stealing a mouthful of bread. The national unemployment rate, as of September 2011, is 9 percent; in the state of Illinois, it is 10 percent; in Winnebago County, it is 13.3 percent; and Rockford tops them all at 13.4 percent.
Rockford is climbing other charts as well, reaching the coveted position of the ninth most violent city in the United States. While it would be a mistake to blame the rise in violence entirely on Rockford’s depressed economy, it would likewise be foolish to think that the growing sense of hopelessness has nothing to do with it. A more important factor in the increase in violent crime, of course, is the demographic change that the city has undergone in the last 40 years, as middle-class whites have fled, to be replaced, almost two-for-one, by recent Mexican immigrants and a not insignificant number of Muslim immigrants. The “Occupy” movement briefly reared its benighted head here in Rockford, until the naive white twentysomethings who were organizing it realized that no one wants to Occupy Rockford; they would rather get the hell out.
In 2008, the city of Rockford, which had been trending increasingly Democratic for years, went solidly for Barack Obama. Two terms of George W. Bush had seen the gutting of Rockford’s manufacturing base, and John McCain’s proposed solution was to retrain unemployed factory workers to empty bedpans at local hospitals. Obama may not have been “change we can believe in,” but for too many men struggling to keep a roof over their dining-room table long enough to put a loaf of bread on it, Obama at least seemed like he wasn’t more of the same.
Except, of course, that he was. The party occupying the White House changed, but the policies continued. Rather than advancing legislation that might shore up (much less bring back) manufacturing in Illinois, President Obama paid off his supporters in the Illinois Asphalt Pavement Association with a stimulus package that has made it almost impossible to drive across the Rock River for close to a year now. Of course, if your factory has closed down, it hardly matters that the road you used to take from home to work has been torn up for months on end.
President Obama should be a lame duck. This election should mark the return of Rockford to the Republican camp. But no one ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the Stupid Party. Their televised circuses, more boring than one of Obama’s teleprompted State of the Union Addresses, go on and on, while bread becomes harder to come by. Once the voting finally starts, Mitt Romney will likely capture the nomination and begin to run to the left of Obama on everything that actually matters. Caught between a braying jackass and a circus elephant lurching violently to the left, voters—at least those who don’t simply stay home—may well choose the devil they know rather than the man who hopes one day to be a god.