“A Succession of Duds” | R.S. Thomas’s Memories of U.S. Presidents

With one exception, R. S. Thomas never talked with me about American politics.

The break in that rule came on November 9, 1994, the day after the mid-term elections during President Clinton’s first four years in office. Television’s nattering heads were agog with the Republican “sweep” that launched Newt Gingrich’s firecracker career, which prompted Thomas to refer to recent U.S. presidents as “a succession of duds.”

How many “duds,” I wondered, does it take to make a “succession”? “Recent” certainly included Clinton and the first Bush. What about Reagan? Ford? Carter? Thomas didn’t say, but surely Reagan was on his list. For President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher saw things through the same eyes, and Thatcher was, for Thomas, “The Iron Lady [who] became / rusty.”

Rusty things are, of course, duds.

From Thomas’s perspective, Thatcher and Reagan must have appeared twinned in dud-ness. Both were bellicose: the prime minister with her Falklands War, the President with his Star Wars Missile Defense.  That militarism would have got right up pacifist Thomas’s nose, and he would have been caustic in his rejection of the greed-is-good, trickle-down economics favored by both leaders.

But . . .

But there’s irony here as there is irony almost everywhere in Thomas’s life. Thomas was well known, and often angrily dismissed, for his insistence that the Welsh people needed to become more defiantly, even more bellicosely, Welsh. But the Welsh, when given an opportunity to vote for some measure of “home rule,” turned it down. Then along came the Iron Lady, and the Welsh, deeply alienated by her English chest thumping and her bugger-the-poor policies, voted in favor of a separate Assembly to legislate on matters pertaining to Wales.

What Thomas, the poet laureate of resurgent Welshness, failed to achieve, the rusty English prime ministerial dud, helped bring about. And wasn’t there a soft chuckle in the heavens?

Poem of R. S. Thomas quoted in this blog:

“The Iron Lady became” – “Not Blonde,” Mass for Hard Times, 24.