“I’m an Independent.”
You wouldn’t think that those three little words could have as tumultuous and arousing an impact on a girl as they do on me. When Senator James Merrill Jeffords of Vermont utters them, ending his two decades of G.O.P. membership, his announcement affects me exactly the same way it does the U.S. Senate: all my priorities are upended. I’m as moved as I was the first time my husband uttered those other three little words, “I love you.”
I suspect that Senator Jim wants me as simple-heartedly and fully as I do him. The only reason he says “I’m an Independent,” rather than “Kitty, I adore you and desire you and can’t live another minute without your beautiful upstart legs wrapped around my maverick patrician neck and your sweet lips moaning into my reasonably clean ear,” is because he’s a true Yankee, and if I want to consummate anything worthwhile with him I’m going to have to adjust to his sense of understatement and emotional reserve.
Okey doke: respecting his decorous reluctance to make the first move, I take Senator Jim in hand and lead him out into a lush summer pasture in his home state where upmarket entrepreneurs and naturally-raised cows mill and frolic. We spread a handmade quilt beneath a sugar maple and lie upon it.
It soon becomes clear to me that, given my sexual proclivities, getting into Yankee sex will take some transitioning. Compared to those rope-’em-and-ride-’em cowpokes from the Red States and the sexed-up urban ethnics from the Blue States, Senator Jim, with his decent, honest, principled straight talk is so vanilla I have to systematically remind myself how erotically advantageous New England traits can be.
There’s that famous reticence (he’d never take his agenda and ram it through a governing body the way Trent Lott does), the decency and sense of noblesse oblige (I know my satisfaction will be high on his check-list, whereas with White House wrangler Karl Rove, I’d be lucky to get a number), self-reliance (something Strom Thurmond can no longer promise) and ingenious practicality (a pillow here, a sling there, and everything runs a bit more smoothly than it does with nothing but a Bible for leverage). Yep: the Yank set of sexual skills may not play that well on C-SPAN, but it gets the job done, and it’s made to last. Count me in.
So, after staring at the birds and the bees through UV-block binoculars for what seems like forever, I lean back against Jim, and discover to my delight that his manly Independence is as hard and stubborn as the political decision he has made.
We noodle around for hours under a blanket, stroking and nuzzling, letting our love ripen like a log of boutique chevre. I have time to reflect that only a week ago I believed all conservatives were alike. To a man, I thought, they were eager to impose a hereditary oligarchy of Southwestern oil moguls and munitions makers, to sabotage the division between church and state and to loot our national resources for the benefit of the few. That was before Jim came along, with his handsome, wedge-shaped face, all plain-spoken and humble, and redefined American conservatism as a philosophy of “moderation, tolerance, fiscal responsibility.” If the Republican Party was determined to swap “Dick and Jane” for “Dick and Jesus Make Jane Support Her Unwanted Baby on $5.45/hr.,” he said, you could count him out. It was so brave of him, I almost don’t care that the new slim Democratic majority in the Senate makes that right-wing Democrat from Georgia, Zell Miller, more powerful than God. The important thing is that Senator Jim knows how to surprise me.
Because Jim’s the sort of man who can take twenty years at foreplay, but when he moves he strikes like lightning. Blind. Instantaneous. Finds my center. Illuminates it, and in the flash of his total attention I understand that the center is the Whole Point. Nothing else matters. Nothing else. The center; the center, the center is all we’ll ever know and all we need to know about union, sexual or political. And when he comes, it’s in milk, price supported, gushing like oil, white gold, molten, neutraceutical, useful, sweet as the hopes of New England’s children.