We Dont Need the White House

Surviving the Bush years, part I

I'll be easy to spot during the next four years. I'll be the one with the "Blame Me: I Voted for Ralph" bumper sticker.

As I write this, the Florida recount is still ongoing and legal challenges are being mounted to the glitchy West Palm Beach vote. As you read this, I'll be in France, doubtless fielding such questions from our French friends as, "If your American democracy is so el supremo, why is it that you'll probably have a president who lost the popular vote and is only in office because thousands of voters were disenfranchised by a faulty ballot?"

It is fortunate at such times that I don't speak a word of French, and their words will only sound like so much goat phlegm-hawking to me.

The absolute goofiness of this election may almost be worth the four years of George W. Bush we'll likely have to endure. Along with Nader being the only candidate to address the issues I feel are crucial to our nation's soul—the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, our insane military spending, the collateral damage of our drug war, etc.—I voted for him because we need a viable third party (if not a fourth, fifth and sixth) to kick some life into a moribund system in which pretty much everyone except those who love franchises feels disenfranchised. And even those folks are getting worked up about the state of things now. And that's good.

The world wasn't laughing at us when Clinton got a blowjob. It is laughing at us now because we presume to lecture them about democracy when we can't even seem to get the basics down. Even Mexico is laughing because when its people vote, their vote counts.

In the meantime, I see us becoming increasingly like the Middle East or the Balkans, where two groups of people can look at the same thing and see two entirely different things. The Republicans are claiming that the Democrats, by questioning the validity of the vote in West Palm Beach, are trying to subvert the democratic process, but you know for goddamn sure they'd be raising hell if they'd lost the election due to tens of thousands of Bush votes mistakenly going to Nader. And if that had been the Republicans' plight instead of the Dems, I don't know in my heart of hearts that I wouldn't now be chortling and saying, "If they're too stupid to punch a ballot, they deserve what they got."

One of my favorite early American legislators was Senator John Randolph. Politics were scarcely more sanguine in the young 1800s than they are now. Washington, D.C., was still being built, and one could only walk it on boards suspended over the muddy streets. One day, Randolph and archrival Henry Clay happened to meet on the same board, approaching from different directions. In high dudgeon, Clay said, "I, sir, do not step aside for a scoundrel."

"On the other hand, I always do," Randolph said, and stepped off into the mud.

How often in history does one get a chance for such a move, to simultaneously be magnanimous while asserting a snotty moral advantage? Wouldn't it be historically gracious for Gore to avoid the court fights, etc., and step aside?

As the candidates like to ask themselves, "What would Jesus do?"

Well, he got crucified, is what he did, but that seemed to work out okay.

Maybe it's time to say, look, it's just the government of the most powerful nation in the world, pivoting between solvency and debt, democracy and oligarchy, individual freedom and religious dictate: Why not make the generous, trusting sacrifice and just give them the government?

I worked as an election official on Nov. 7 at a polling place in Costa Mesa. We had a good turnout. One elderly woman spent 35 minutes carefully punching her ballot. A new mother asked us to photograph her with her 7-week-old child, to record the kid's first election. Another woman began sobbing when she found she wasn't registered and couldn't vote.

At this locale, it's pretty much a given that these people were backing candidates who terrify me, as were my fellow election officials, with whom I had as fine a time as you can under fluorescent lights. And they're all good people, doing the best they know how.

One method to surviving the Bush years, if indeed they are upon us, is not to demonize people. We all live here. If we on the Left are so damn right, we should be able to convince others of that; we might start by dumping oversimplifications like Left and Right. It's easy to blame others for not seeing what's apparent to us: the calculated cynicism with which their votes are courted, and how the megaphone roar of moneyed politics is drowning out the voice of reason. But in a presidential race, the Democrats are scarcely less calculating (Bush wasn't firing blanks when mocking Gore's focus-group politics; he just wasn't admitting to his own), and if the Democrats' megaphone is mellower, it's only because they aren't as good yet at toadying up to big corporations.

If Gore had thought us worthy of candor, if instead of dodging the issue of his tainted campaign financing, he'd said, "Look, as the laws are now, the Republicans are better at whoring to corporations than we are, so we've got to peddle our ass wherever we can," he might be president today.

And how do we, the wee folk, overcome money and power? By realizing, as the bank ads say, that you have more power than you think. True Barry Goldwater conservatives will argue that they oppose government controls because they lull the populace into thinking that government is taking care of things for them, and it isn't.

Even under a Democratic administration, there's a case for that. The government didn't discover that genetically altered corn had found its way into our food; it was a lab hired by environmentalists. Nor was the government the first to raise a red flag over Firestone tires.

The government is supposed to require that broadcasters sometimes act in the public interest if they expect to get rich making free use of the public airwaves. As you've no doubt noticed, the Federal Communications Commission has all but abandoned making broadcasters do squat.

That was under Clinton, and it won't get better under Bush. I still believe that, with a vigilant populace, government is the best instrument of our will. It is our government, if we ever get it back from the rich.

In the meantime, though, take a tip from the conservatives: don't trust government to take care of you. With that stupendous tax cut we're all going to get under Bush, use that $1.20 and then some to support organizations that pursue environmental and social justice. Be a citizen. Do more to help people. Support local charities that take on some of the social services government is abandoning.

Realize that you vote every day with your pocketbook: buy organic; support food co-ops and farmers' markets; support small, morally run businesses; start your own business; tell your local anti-mall that you don't buy sweatshop-produced goods, no matter how hip; use a bike or a bus; refuse to ride in your friend's Panzer-sized SUV and let her know why. We could use a little more shame around here.

And take a Republican to lunch. They aren't going to go away; you may as well learn to reason with them. There are plenty of areas of common ground you can get involved in.

For example, chances are they're no happier with local TV news than you are, with its dearth of real news, focus on street crime and celebrity, and manipulative presentation. For example, a few weeks ago, NBC News headed into a commercial break with a tease about "a dangerous murder suspect at loose in a local neighborhood." The guy could be lurking outside your window, but NBC doesn't care; they just want you to hang through the commercial break.

And you probably feel it's useless to complain. But some 210,000 people read the Weekly. If only one in five reads this article, that's 42,000 people. And if you—don't look around, I mean you—got four friends—Republicans, Rosicrucians, whatever—to write in, that's 168,000 complaints demanding serious news coverage. NBC and their advertisers are not going to ignore that, particularly since deep down, they probably dislike serving up shit as much as you dislike receiving it.

That's the power you have, if you use it. You don't need the White House.

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