OK, Bush vs. Gore. As one of The Onion's Persons in the Street put it, the choice you make when you pick a Pay-Per-View movie. I could tell you a lot of sincere liberal stuff about why I'm voting for Gore, but that would be no fun. I'd rather do things like pass along a comment from Frank Deford, the greatest sportswriter in the world when he's not discussing attractive young female athletes: Do you really want to vote for a baseball owner?

They tell me that when Bush stood up to accept the nomination, a particular part of him noticeably stood up as well. (Some are saying the W stands for "Woody.") Perhaps that means he shares the sexual fantasy once stated by Gore Vidal: "I'd like to become president so I could do it to 200 million people at once." Actually, I'm cynical enough to believe that it was all a trick: As Mick Jagger has been alleged to do onstage, Dubya was wearing a basket falsie.

But I'm not really cynical. If I were really cynical, I would suggest that Dubya's handlers deal with the nastiest information about him by releasing it through narrators of such unreliability that the question is dropped, as when a story about his cocaine record showed up in the work of a convicted car bomber. If I believed that, I would go on to suggest that subtler means were used to deal with the lesser offense of dyslexia, for which the spokesperson was Gail Sheehy, who has shown a level of factual precision somewhere in the neighborhood of Colin Wilson, if not the Weekly World News. This technique may have been borrowed by Dubya's allies, Ken Starr & Co., who saw to it that the assignment to write about their adventures was handed over to someone who would fling homosexual accusations and generally perform the difficult feat of acting like even more of an "insane clown posse" than its subjects. Of course, I am just fantasizing and don't believe a word of what I'm saying, but if you get word of a report by Ted Rall accusing Dubya of improper relations with the livestock, remember, you heard it here. [2000]

OK, so I've been sulking. I kept wanting to write about the Theft of Florida at the time, but the crime was so ugly, and the details so tedious, that I couldn't bring myself to. I feel sorry for the voters who were so nauseated by the two main parties that they Ralphed, especially those in Florida. Most of them didn't want to make it easier for the White House to be stolen on W's behalf, but that's what they wound up doing, and I'm sure they feel miserably guilty about it. (Well, actually I hope they do.) They've had a chance to find out about their belief that there'd be no REAL difference between Bush and Gore presidencies. I think my favorite horrible counterexample is the decision to take the American Bar Association out of the judge-selecting process because they care about all that legable stuff, rather than just making sure that the judges are pro-life and pro-death. [2001]

Where to begin? Perhaps with the image of a rich Republican--the kind who has heard that there's supposed to be something wrong with the economy, but it hasn't bothered anyone he knows--realizing that his Lexus has been stolen. He sees it the next day, being driven past his mansion by a guy who flips him the bird as he passes. The day after, the perp drives past again, and one of the headlights is gone. He keeps seeing the car, ever more damaged, and the thief, ever more contemptuous. But in this fable the Police Dept. tells him it's a fait accompli: "Get over it. Get on with your life."

I'm one of those guys who haven't gotten over Florida. OK, so I was kind of happy back in 1960 when Mayor Daley stole the election for Kennedy, and maybe this is my payoff. I imagine Katherine Harris, reveling in all the election fraud she got away with, going to an underground gathering of an organization far more secret and sinister than Skull & Bones, leading a horrific ritual, clad in a mask of eldritch horror (or perhaps just her usual cosmetics), and chanting, "Richard Nixon, thou art avenged!"

When the majority of the Supreme Court went along with the gag, I was tempted to say something unreasonable, perhaps that they had signed on to the so-called Republican agenda. I was not a good sport.

So this is a rant. The guy who used to do the good rants is now sucking up to the gang in power. (I imagine that I would be shaken if I were replaced by John Madden, but I like to think I wouldn't suffer brain damage.) It's a dirty job, but...

I'm not being reasonable. If you want reasonable, read Paul Krugman, Molly Ivins, and Jon Carroll. They're reasonable, and they represent the Extreme Left of that good old liberal media that we're supposed to worry about, while Ann Coulter and Savage Michael are evaluated politically, rather than psychologically. (Coulter, having accused the all-powerful liberals of slander, now is flinging the word treason, a term precisely defined in our nation's law in ways that have apparently not been explained to her in short enough sentences. The next book will no doubt be called Witchcraft, and she will inform us that the only way the liberals could have survived the blinding light of reason in her earlier books is through the machinations of Satan--Yes. I know. Do you expect her to understand the difference between witchcraft and Satanism?)

Anyway, to continue the stolen car image, the thief decided that the machinery could be made to work much better without pumping in all that premium rich people's money. The economy reacted badly to this effort to funnel more and more money to the rich, as it has to every previous effort in that direction, and the administration, taken by surprise, shrewdly decided that the only cure was to cut top-bracket taxes even further, an approach not unlike "I haven't smoked enough crack yet." Despite this encouragement, some of those who best exemplify the economic principles Bush was trying to reward, such as Enron, came to grief. Remarkably enough, our ever-vigilant court system has not yet punished any of these people.

And then came 9/11. In the absence of criminal evidence, I will say only that it was a good career move for Bush in the same sense that Elvis's death was a good career move for him. Bush & Co. reacted as well as might be expected: "This was done by Saudi Arabian religious fanatics, so we must strike out against secular Iraqis. It stands to reason, doesn't it?" Bush offered New York City and its police and fire departments the praise of a grateful nation, more precious than gold (which is a good thing, as he didn't send them any gold) and likewise provided rhetorical, rather than mere financial, support to our armed forces, whom he then sent into Afghanistan, a country that cannot be governed, to make sure that it was not governed by forces inimical to us. Sure enough, one can now find no agents of Al Qaeda or the Taliban anywhere in Afghanistan, an argument convincing to those unfamiliar with the old gag about Lion Powder.

Meanwhile, back in the States, the government offered our constipated economy the Imodium of cuts in the dividend tax. Those in power hoped that war would be the health of the state and cranked up for an invasion of Iraq. "Somebody did us dirt, so somebody better watch out" seemed unpersuasive to some, so our leaders decided to seek the Weapons of Mass Destruction. David Frum, hitherto best known for Dead Right, a book arguing that the main reason the Market wasn't working perfectly was the State's insistence on feeding the losers, explained that Iraq, Iran, and North Korea were an "Axis of Evil." (In the ancient days in which I was born, there was an Axis of Evil, which we were fighting a World War against. It did not consist of two countries that hated each other and a third that didn't care about either.)

Those ignorant of George Santayana are condemned to repeat him. But our president did not remember Vietnam, perhaps because of his habits at the time, or else because it didn't give him the sort of traumas that keep the past fresh in memory. Those who were sent there remember it. I was better off, but I can still recall all the trouble I had dodging the draft back then; if I'd merely been allowed to join the Air National Guard and quit when I got bored, it might have slipped my mind.

We had France thinking we were too arrogant and Germany thinking we were too militaristic, and some of our leading government and media types acted as if any expression of doubt by country music groups or stars of sports movies could overthrow the whole project, but we persevered, and we got a quick apparent military victory (with a certain amount of collateral damage to museums, hospitals, and the good opinion of the world). We celebrated with that most characteristic element of the contemporary American polity, the Photo Op. Our Prez, finally deciding to do a bit of that aviation activity he had signed up for when the alternative could have been actual military experience, copiloted a landing on an aircraft carrier. (I could not shake the image of Maggie Simpson copiloting Marge's car.) He looked good. Norman Mailer, who has always managed to get a few things spectacularly right, suggests that W missed a career as a male model.

For some reason, this display of power and beauty failed to answer those pesky little memories that the purpose of the whole mess was to find and recover the Weapons of Mass Destruction. Remarkably enough, we haven't found any, though we did discover a sinister-looking operation that turned out be a device for inflating hydrogen balloons (literal hot air). So we needed an Explanation. Ever see a cat leap onto the edge of a surface, scrabble mightily to remain, and fall to the floor, then act as if he had accomplished precisely what he set out to? Our president explained that that the WMDs must have been taken by looters. Right. We spent billions of dollars, alienated most of the world, and sacrificed a number of American soldiers, not to mention (as we never do) a significantly larger number of locals, so that we could get the WMDs away from a nation-state we could locate and punish and into the hands of untraceable highest bidders.

But wait, there's more: This was supposed to be quick and "surgical," followed by leaving them to their own devices, but now it seems that we're going to stay in Iraq until we are sure Saddam won't come back, which I guess is sooner than when Hell freezes over or we actually find some WMDs. Does this suggest anything to those who remember the Sixties? Online, I am seeing phrases like qWagmire, qWicksand, and "Vietnam II: This time it's a dry heat."

One thing about rescuing a country that didn't particularly want to be rescued and staying there is that the locals start trying to pick off a few of their liberators. To Bush this was an opportunity to do a verbal equivalent of his Air Force drag. He dared the other side to attack, though not of course to attack him, as he was on the other side of the world. Patrick Nielsen Hayden says we shouldn't call Bush a "cowboy" because that feeds into his fantasies and those of his remaining supporters. He's right. Cowboys are supposed to be strong, silent men who issue challenges only when they themselves are at risk. This is more like the Signifyin' Monkey: "Hey, elephant! Lion say your weapons ain't shee-it. Bring 'em on."

It wasn't ridiculous enough. So now we are ready to send troops to Liberia, perhaps because Fernando Poo is no longer a nation-state. Just a few troops. ("I'm just gonna do one line.") I am tempted to suggest that when this possibility was mentioned to our president, he said, "Isn't that the place with all the books in it?" (How would he know? He's never been in either.) I just hope it's not a violation of federal law to suggest that W eat more pretzels. [2003]


Vote for the Bore--It's Important

The Onion has it right as usual: A recent story is entitled "Many Americans Still Unsure Whom to Vote Against." I am not.

Dayenu. The mess in Iraq would be sufficient unto itself to make me vote against Bush. Remember him in front of the Mission Accomplished sign, wearing his military costume? (Technically, George Bush is not a DESERTER.) Not only was the mission not accomplished, but we face two huge embarrassments: Abu Ghraib, where civilians from the prison-industrial complex, convinced that the Geneva convention had been "rendered quaint," set up a system of tortures that have turned the world's collective stomach, and Ahmad Chalabi, who, on the face of it, could not be trusted by anyone not desperate to be agreed with, and now appears to have been an agent for Iran. (Remember the Axis of Evil?) It could turn out that the difference between Richard Perle and Alger Hiss is that Hiss gave away less useful information.

But wait! There's more! Let's not forget the tax cuts for the rich, turning America into more of a third-world country while impressing the innumerate masses with the decrease in "average" tax. The eventual purpose of that is "starving the beast," a technical term for keeping the government from performing cardinal works of mercy while maintaining the Wars on Some Drugs and Some Terrorism full-blast. There's the Bush gang's faith-based "science," in which, despite mere empirical fact, abortion causes breast cancer, there's no such thing as repetitive stress injury, and mercury in the water doesn't cause brain damage if those who dump it there make large enough campaign contributions. And of course John Ashcroft, Anointed Defender of the Faith, protecting us from bare-boobed statues and swarthy foreigners.

The alternative is voting for John Kerry, and since he will not turn into a giant toad or something, I believe the choice is obvious. [2004]

I saw my shrink in September for a new antidepressant shortly after I encouraged a Web site to do an improbable and unpleasant act to itself with a RotoRooter (an Imus image) over formatting issues. I decided that part of the problem could be situational depression over not enough paid work and the increasing realization that the only possible outcomes of the next forty years are a Singularity (for perhaps somewhat moderate values thereof) and something way below barbarism. Anyway, Goodbye Serzone, Hello Cymbalta.

In mid-November I saw my shrink again. I have a Hawthorn Effect with new medication, and I was getting at least that. I reported that I hadn't become despondent after the election, and he replied, "That's funny; most of us did." Actually, I reacted like this:

We lost, and now what do we do? First thing I'll do is sound like a liberal. Let's not assume that all the millions who voted for Bush are the bad guys. Some believed that the threat of terrorism is so serious, and Bush's response to it so much better than Kerry's, that it overcame any misgivings about Bush's economic policies, approach to rights and liberties, etc., as a matter of sheer survival. I think they're mistaken, but I might be.

That said, there a lot of people who like what is worst in Bush--the people who voted to deny marriage rights to gays in all eleven states where the question came up, the antiabortionists who should not be called "fetus fans" because they are primarily concerned with the cost of sex being high enough (especially for women), the ones who cling to their racial and religious hates--and who don't care what else Bush does as long as he panders to what is worst in them. The vast majority of them are not going to be really helped by Bush, and as far as I'm concerned they don't deserve any better. I just wish they weren't taking us along with them. I am tempted to go a bit beyond Richard Nixon: The average American is the special child in the family.

But then I remember that about 50% of the voting population voted against Bush, and they (we) are not going away either. (And the Republicans, as usual, depended on the white vote.) Let's not overestimate the extent to which we are "surrounded." Furthermore, while we can assume that Bush will make a mess, he may not make an irrevocable mess, and he may make one obvious to a majority before the next congressional elections or at least by 2008. It is not just in Greek plays that Hubris gets clobbered by Nemesis.

Let's also not take this red state/blue state thing too seriously. I'm from a blue state, but as the subtler maps show, we're actually a purple state, just a bit bluer than the others. Likewise I'm really from a purple city in a purple county, and—let's face it—I myself am a bit purple, as my soul contains a bit of red-state red along with the blue. I wouldn't be surprised if yours does too.

There are still organizations that will work against Bush. Let us all find at least one to do more for. I'm going to give a lot more support to the ACLU, which will have much to do in the next four years.

I'm still a science fiction type who believes that new ideas can save us (more so than electoral processes). Perhaps science will come up with an improvement on RU-486 that requires only a single dose to abort, and it can be bootlegged—as illegal as a vial of crack and as hard to obtain.

Meanwhile, keep living and keep loving. Write, organize, change minds one on one—whatever you do best. And remember what the great Yogi said: It ain't over till it's over. [2004]