by Max Brantley
For a decade or so, I've been appearing as the token liberal at the American Legion's civics experiment, Boys State. I generally get hooted, booed and hissed by the very conservative high school seniors before it's all over. (And patted quietly on the back by the minority of free thinkers who attend.)
So, this year's report after a lively session this afternoon at UCA:
Social issues are dead. I got one question -- about gay marriage -- and when I said I favored it, I got a smattering of applause, no boos and no followup questions. Amazing. Previous years have been dominated by the evils of homosexuality and murderous abortionists and the primacy of the Bible.
This year? The war was the topic, over and over. And the presidential election.
I did a straw vote. My impression was that Obama scored higher than McCain in the show of hands, but McCain had robust support among the 17- and 18-year-olds. Many students had friends and relatives in Iraq. Many believe if we don't battle them in Baghdad we'll have to battle them in the streets of Benton. Really.
We had full and frank exchanges. I was encouraged. The war and health care (another subject of repeat questions) are a great deal more meaningful than the usual social issue noise.
It was the 39th anniversary of my Boys State summer at LSU, several months before the assassinations of RFK and MLK. We were segregated then. White males at LSU were in air conditoned dorms. Black males were in steamy dorms across town at Southern. Saltpeter in the eggs, of course (or so the story went.). Louisiana, ever advanced, held Boys and Girls State at the same time at LSU. When you marched in military formation across the LSU campus, you had to do an "eyes right" when girls approached. But there was one evening when fraternization was allowed. The boys marched over to the girls' dorms and then walked into ranks arranged by height. Then you did a left face and met your date for the evening, a dance in the LSU Union. Weird memory, I know. Sometimes, I really don't want to be young again.