As clear proof that one of America’s leading research universities has way too much time on its hands – and too few real issues to investigate – Harvard has announced that July 4 parades and related celebrations influence young people to become Republicans and increase the likelihood that parade watchers will vote for the GOP. Democrats might as well stay at home, according to researchers at America’s oldest university.
Having now witnessed several Fourth of July parades and related celebrations in the town of Laurel, I say hogwash. Sussex Countians of all political persuasions celebrate the Fourth with gusto and sincerity. It’s a pretty nonpartisan affair, from what I can tell. Nobody was morphing into Mitt Romney or Sarah Palin along the parade route, and no local Democrats that I knew were cowering in panic.
Let’s start with the prayer breakfast. The Laurel Ministerial Association sponsors an annual interfaith breakfast at the Georgia House restaurant. My wife and I attended at the godly hour of 7:30 a.m. to show support for our own priest and to see what it was all about. The bill of fare was sumptuous: eggs with or without shrimp, bacon, biscuits, sausage, gravy, coffee and juice. We sat at a table with our priest, Laurel’s mayor (who attends our church), and the Town Council President. Very good conversation, and no politics.
The keynote speaker at the prayer breakfast was our State Senator, a Democrat, whose topic was freedom of religion under the First Amendment – an historical approach that centered on some legislation he had sponsored years ago in the General Assembly. Our state representative, a Republican, was also present, as were several Sussex County Council members. A good place to be seen, perhaps, but no political proselytizing. Most people wore some combination of red, white and blue.
After a couple of hours of vigorous but pleasant digestion, we changed clothes and headed for the parade. Laurel’s July 4 parade is something special, if you haven’t seen it. Local fire companies from Laurel, Delmar and Sharptown (MD) turned out in force. There was an array of antique fire engines and farm tractors. Local and statewide beauty pageant winners of all ages graced the rear seats of classic convertibles. We also saw trucks or floats sponsored by the Lions Club, the Lioness Club, cheerleading groups, local businesses and farms.
And yes, there were some politicians. This being a non-election year, only Congressman Carney – a Democrat, last time I looked — showed up from Delaware’s federal delegation. He got a nice round of applause, although some of it might have been reserved for the beautiful lime-green 1955 Dodge immediately behind him. Mayor Shwed, whose party affiliation I still don’t know, marched near the front of the parade, tricked out in a red shirt and Bermuda shorts. A few Sussex County pols came through, but they weren’t handing out campaign buttons.
After the parade, my wife and I strolled up Central Avenue toward the center of town, past the various food and gift booths. We bought a cool drink for the hot day and baked goods from some enterprising young girls who were raising money for a local charity. I admired a line of classic cars, particularly a 1965 Corvair that looked a lot better than Ralph Nader.
The promised “Little Miss Laurel” pageant was a bit late getting started, so we walked over to Delaware Avenue for the most spirited contest of the day: a “cornhole” game – that’s “beanbag toss” for you snickering, uninitiated upstaters – between Mayor Shwed and school board member Vanderslice, on the one hand, and two Bridgeville town officials, on the other. The Laurel team blew an early lead but came back to nip Bridgeville at the wire.
All in all, a grand day, concluded by an impressive display of fireworks at dusk. This is how the Fourth should be celebrated: with pride, enthusiasm, sentiment and humor. If Laurel is a microcosm of small-town America – and I believe it is – the good folks at the Harvard Kennedy School better recheck their data.