June 04, 2004

Regrettably necessary

Posted by shonk at 04:38 AM in Politics, Words of Wisdom | TrackBack

First off, I want to apologize again for the lack of content around here recently. Being on vacation for the last few weeks has made regular updating difficult, but during the last eight days I’ve endured multiple migraines on all but two of the days. Which makes it sort of hard to think very clearly or write very effectively. Anyway, I got some new drugs from my doctor today, so hopefully the migraines will soon recede.

Okay, what was I going to talk about? Oh, yeah, politics. Somehow, despite the fact that I hate politics, especially party politics and especially this year’s version, I seem to be uncontrollably drawn to some sort of weird punditry every couple of weeks. This round’s inspiration are the dual pillars of madness and genius embodied by The Onion and Hunter S. Thompson, Doctor of Journalism. Reversing the order of discussion and thereby causing no end of anguish to my tenth-grade English teacher (if she’s reading this, anyway), those who pay any attention to the Books page have no doubt noticed that I’m currently reading Thompson’s Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ‘72, which is, more or less, a collection of the biweekly articles he wrote on the ‘72 presidential campaign for Rolling Stone.

Needless to say, those looking for “objective” journalism should look somewhere elsewhere than Thompson. In fact, in his own words:

So much for Objective Journalism. Don’t bother to look for it here—not under any byline of mine; or anyone else I can think of. With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.

Anyway, the point of that little tangent is to say that Thompson, as should surprise nobody familiar with his work, has no qualms about projecting himself into his articles on the campaign, no problem with stating his opinions directly and pursuing his biases openly. Though I haven’t even reached the Democratic Convention yet, one of the main themes of the book is obviously the problem that, in 1972, a lot of people cared more about defeating Nixon than about any particular opposition candidate. Which was the primary reason the apparently Ibogaine-dependent Ed Muskie was crowned in 1971 as the Democratic front-runner solely on the basis of the opinion that he was “the only man who can defeat Nixon”. Needless to say, one sees some immediate parallels to the current election.

In fact, the parallels are quite overt. The situation in Iraq is small potatoes compared to what was going on in Vietnam in 1972, but the fact remains that in both cases America was involved in a military conflict in southern Asia. In both cases, the incumbent is a Republican who had succeeded a southern Democratic predecessor, but in neither case had the incumbent defeated his predecessor in an election. Cynics can, no doubt, fill in their own table of similarities between George W. Bush and Richard M. Nixon.

Early in the book, when it appears obvious that Thompson’s favored candidate (McGovern) will be an also-ran in the Democratic primaries, he has this to say on the whole process:

How many more of these goddamn elections are we going to have to write off as lame but “regrettably necessary” holding actions? And how many more of these stinking, double-downer sideshows will we have to go through before we can get ourselves straight enough to put together some kind of national election that will give me and the at least 20 million people I tend to agree with a chance to vote for something, instead of always being faced with that old familiar choice between the lesser of two evils?

Hmm…sound familiar? As it turned out, in ‘72, the choices actually ended up being fairly disparate, with the anti-war and semi-radical McGovern getting stomped by tricky Dick. In ‘04, on the other hand, it looks like we will face down exactly what Thompson was most horrified by, the necessity of choosing the lesser of two evils, of choosing which rich, white, middle-aged member of Skull & Bones will be the president for the next four years (or at least until the winner is impeached, which somehow strikes me as likely and fits in nicely with my 1972 parallels).

In fact, that’s precisely what caught my eye in The Onion this week. After I got done chuckling at the caption “Shotgun Blast To Abdomen Just Pisses Wilfred Brimley Off More”, I had to admit that the article “Many Americans Still Unsure Whom to Vote Against” (archived) pretty much hits the nail on the head:

According to the poll, 46 percent of the registered voters surveyed would vote against Bush if the election were held tomorrow, while 45 percent said they were ready to vote against Kerry. Factoring in the 2 percent margin of error, the two candidates are essentially deadlocked in the race to determine which candidate America doesn’t support.

Of course, I find it all deliciously ironic. People who claim to care about social justice, egalitarianism and pacifism will be voting for John Kerry, who in addition to being a part of the elite of the elite for his entire life is notoriously difficult to pin down on just what, exactly, he thinks ought to be done in Iraq (pretty much the same thing Bush thinks, as it turns out). On the other hand, people who came to care about free markets, freedom and smaller government will probably cast their votes for Bush, who is not only a mercantilist of the old school, but passed into law the USA PATRIOT Act (which Kerry, and the rest of the chumps in Congress, voted for but now hypocritically denounces, by the way) and has increased federal spending like it was going out of fashion (which is ironic, because it never seems to).

Anyway, the point is that nobody, but nobody, who votes in this year’s election is going to be voting for a candidate with which they agree with on more than half the issues. Actually, let me re-phrase that: Nobody with half a brain who votes, etc. In other words, the president, whoever it ends up being, does not accurately represent the citizenry.

And yes, I’m well aware that this isn’t exactly a startling insight. But it still needs to be said, as plainly and as often as possible. Oh yeah, and one more thing: voting is a sucker’s bet. You’re about as likely to get run over by a car on the way to the polling booth as to cast the deciding ballot in the upcoming election (pdf file) and, let’s be honest, the difference between life and death is orders of magnitude larger than the difference between Bush and Kerry in the White House.

To complete the cycle, a couple more relevant quotes from the book:

But this is stone bullshit. There are only two ways to make it in big-time politics today: One is to come on like a mean dinosaur, with a high-powered machine that scares the shit out of your entrenched opposition (like Daley or Nixon)…and the other is to tap the massive, frustrated energies of a mainly young, disillusioned electorate that has long since abandoned the idea that we all have a duty to vote. This is like being told that you have a duty to buy a new car, but you have to choose immediately between a Ford and a Chevy.

— pg. 73

The latest craze on the local [Washington, D.C.] high-life front is mixing up six or eight aspirins in a fresh Coca-Cola and doing it all at once. Far more government people are into this stuff than will ever admit to it. What seems like mass paranoia in Washington is really just a sprawling, hyper-tense boredom—and the people who actually live and thrive here in the great web of Government are the first ones to tell you, on the basis of long experience, that the name or even the Party Affiliation of the next President won’t make any difference at all, except on the surface.

The leaves change, they say, but the roots stay the same.

— pg. 90