See the Wingless Bird!

See it and weep

And, you know what? These voters were mostly all nice people. They're not skinheads, or gun nuts or robber barons or fascists. They're just people trying to do the best they know how. In the process, they've probably damned us to a government that will blight generations: bringing irreversible environmental damage, eroded civil rights, a foreign policy that spawns more hatred in the world, and you can kiss your ass goodbye with an agenda-based judiciary that'll probably even jail you for that kiss.

How did this happen? How can nice people do this?

I think it's because fear sells and has now become our national commodity. In the weeks before the election, when the economy and other issues should have occupied the news, all we got were endless reports on bogeymen: Saddam and the snipers. The Republicans couldn't have had it better if they'd planned it, and in Iraq's case, they did, pacing their frantic war drum to the election, even while our own CIA and our allies' intelligence was telling us there was no al-Qaida link and no immediate threat. Then there's White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card's infamously cynical remark about the timing of the war push: "You don't launch a new product in August." When we're threatened from without and from within, who ya gonna call, except our own hard-assed hawks on the right?

It also doesn't help that the Democrats are fueled by fear. How was a voter supposed to get enthused about a party whose idea of unity is hiding under the desk when a controversial vote comes up? Whose Gray Davis is a human slot machine, except you can't be sure about the "human" part?

But there's a deeper malaise than that at work, a near complete disconnect where most Americans no longer act like Americans, no longer believe that their participation matters or can make a difference. They hunker at home and comfort themselves with TV fictions about people who matter and make a difference—but only with a gun in their hands. And meanwhile voter registration is down to about 60 percent of those eligible, only half of those registered voted, and the election was won by a little more than half that number, so the course of our nation was just determined by 15 percent of those entitled to do so.

* * *

I finally got around to seeing Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine, and when Moore wasn't being ham-handed or pestering poor old Charlton Heston, the film made the point that America runs on fear. Other nations have bloodier pasts and others have piles of guns: Why don't they have the homicidal gun mayhem we do? Moore showed us snippets of foreign news programs, which seemed designed for rational adults (and discuss complex issues such as genetic engineering at length), contrasted with U.S. news with its adolescent focus on street crime.

Even with the rise in crime under Bush (another undiscussed election issue), there's still less violent crime than there was a decade ago, yet people feel more threatened and buy more guns. On environmental policy, Bush tells us it would threaten our economy to adopt the wan protocols the rest of the world has agreed to. Guys with $3 worth of box cutters attack us, and we raise the amount poured down the military maw to $355 billion. How threatened and afraid can one nation be? When we abandon our own laws, our compassion, our sense of fair play for other peoples, what is left of the values this nation was founded upon? How many wings can an eagle lose?

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