The Nation's Pulse

Boom-Boom Town

Remember the company town? Thomson, Illinois, is taking that to a new level, as it's soon to become known for the company it keeps.

By 12.18.09

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Remember the factory town? This was a staple of Americana in the years when mines and foundries were the heart of the national economy. Often the town existed beforehand, dwindling as new machinery made agrarian labor obsolete. The plant sprouted as a savior, providing employment for idle hands outside the devil's workshop. They might even be manufacturing the very tractors that chased them from the fields.

Other times, particularly in mining, the industrial complex might be erected in the middle of nowhere, if nowhere was vast enough. The town would grow around it like a carousel. The burgeoning area would attract people out of luck and place them out of context. Occasionally a communal spirit might develop in spite of the history or because of it, as shared fate circulated warmth between hearts.

In literature, what romance such groupings held in the hands of Bret Harte and Mark Twain (who incidentally hated each other rabidly) gave way to the grim resentment of later authors. Grounded in the fin-de-siècle labor movement, they saw these townships as instruments of subjugation. The worker was underpaid, as the company trapped him by a mortgage from its banking wing, then overcharged him in its monopolistic local retail establishments.

Housing was drab and drabber, culture was gray and grayer and recreation was flat and flatter. Townspeople were bred in obscurity, toiled in mediocrity and died in anonymity. "And after it rains there's a rainbow, and all of the colors are black, it's not that the colors aren't there, it's just imagination they lack, everything's the same back in my little town," thus spake Simon and Garfunkel.

Well, good news, I suppose, if you were rooting for a comeback. The state of Illinois, we are told, is ecstatic over the impending renaissance of the homey burg of Thomson (population 1,659 in 816 housing units, do the math). Until hence this lovely locale had wallowed in malaise. Folks looked longingly at the abandoned prison hulking in their midst, nostalgic for the days when it brimmed with malfeasants and malefactors of all stripes. The kinky killers of old, the rapacious rapists, the gun-toters, the knife-wielders, were all gone, and with them the cheery jobs of seeing to their welfare. Where have you gone, Joe Columbo (Simon and Garfunkel again)?

Now they may rejoice once more, beams the Senator. Happy days are here again, croons the Governor. Salvation has arrived, chirps the Mayor. Yes, indeed, courtesy of our kindly Uncle Sam, we have a boatload of murderers imported all the way from Afghanistan. These merchants of death will breathe life into your moribund economy. Three thousand jobs, they say, a ratio of two or three per terrorist.

Such an uplifting story. This is hope and change for real people. The beheaders will be heading into our backyard at millions of dollars per capita. American creativity need not languish in desuetude any longer; it can be invested in the art and science of securing expatriate al Qaeda heroes. Who said that suicide bombing can't have a happy ending?

Seriously, no one in his right mind thinks this is a good idea, but people in their left minds are insisting. They have clearly bought the cooperation of local officialdom by applying some of those handy stimulus funds. While the rest of the country recoils in horror at the prospect of importing captured terrorists onto our mainland, this charade of mock gratitude is enacted by these chieftains. The pols trump the polls.

I blame Bush and Cheney almost as much as I do Obama. They had six years to figure this thing out and they chose to hand off to the next guy. And when your successor is a failure, your work joins his in going down the drain. One thing about those small towns, each person had to stand up to his or her responsibility. You cleared your plate but you did not wash your hands. Not us urban sophisticates though; unable to get mad we have instead gone mad.

Now the Democrats, champions of the underdog, are celebrating rural America by giving them work knitting prayer rugs and whatnot. The horny-handed man of toil will finally get his due in the land of Obamutopia. We may feel safe in knowing America will not let its guards down. There are plenty of jobs taking care of the refugees from Guantanamo Bay: it takes a village.

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About the Author

Jay D. Homnick, commentator and humorist, is a frequent contributor to The American Spectator.