November 6, 2008
Reno, NVWith all my heart, I hope this will be my last political word.
I wasn’t able to leave the Sun Valley Neighborhood Center until 8:15 PM, Pacific Standard Time. As a poll worker (as opposed to poll watcher; what I had done in Bradenton, Florida in 2004), I’d been in the political “cone of silence” since 5:30 that morning. Fourteen computerized machines recorded the preferences of the steady stream of voters. Ten of us had been assigned to the task of validating their legitimacy and assisting them, should they need it; all 100% political, but by law not a political word could be exchanged. Thus it wasn’t until I reached my car and turned on the radio that I learned the seemingly endless march through the dark night was over. It had been a long and emotionally excruciating 13 years.
When the Republicans took hold of the House, January of 1995, they seized it with a visceral hatred and a vengeance I’d never imagined. Every mega-church pastor and televangelist became a megaphone for the Right’s crusade against every American principle. These were not Americans, they were different from the jack-booted brownshirts of the German and Italian 30’s only by their dress. Indeed, as unearthed research has recently shown, they had no interest in a pluralistic democracy. Their sole orientation was on behalf of a Christian theocracy that they themselves authored. And by that, their hypocrisy was what most defined them to the point that I doubt Jesus would even recognize them. Scurrilous enemies of all that composed “America,” the idea, not the geography.
Brave men who had lost limbs in the uniformed service of the United States were insufficiently “American;” insufficiently so because they were not only tolerant, they were wholly accepting of those who were insufficiently white in color or philosophy or the designated sexual orientation. Those who spoke against the rashness were “America haters,” and worse. That was what first prompted me to the task: uncovering the abject lies, opposing the vileness, calling those who were calling the loudest for the militaristic Christian orthodoxy reign what they were — the most repellent of all cowards and hypocritical charlatans.
With the entry onto the stage of Bush and Cheney and Rove and Rumsfeld et al, matters just got worse. The trap door over the septic tank of Machiavellian deceit and cynicism was opened wide, and the country slipped into a miasma of Brave New World and 1984 made real. Down was the new up, Right was all that could be correct, and anything left became a mortal peril. Although you might be struggling under the terrible weight of stagnant or declining wages, you were rich because there were very rich men in the land; very rich men whose excellence and superiority compared to your meanness entitled them to greater wealth and even greater tax breaks. If you were sufficiently compliant, something would trickle down to you. History was what the administration and its neocon supporters said it was, regardless that it might not be. Hate became the purest expression of genuine love. Above all else, you must be afraid, very afraid. And you must trust them to keep you safe. That was the new courage. That was the ultimate demonstration of what it meant to be brave in the “home of the brave.”
I remember sitting on a couch in Florida when I first heard the utter absurdity: Saddam Hussein of Iraq had been in league with bin Laden’s al Qaida, when the country was attacked that clear September morning in 2001. I leapt to my feet, hurtled a loud obscenity at the screen, “What __________! No one will believe that s**t!” I was so charged because never in history has a tyrant as ruthlessly tyrannical as the Iraq dictator ever tolerated a competitor like bin Laden anywhere in his midst. Never. For all such ruthless leaders, it was always a paranoid case of riding the back of the tiger. Never.
But the country did believe it. I was dumbfounded. The country had not only become the land of the sedentary and timid, but also of the incalculably, willingly ignorant. The new reality of patriotism and life was going to the mall, and spending hours caught in the drama of “Deal, or no deal.”
Every falsehood became the new truth that more than half the country believed and believe in. Purging voter rolls of those unlikely to support the Republican party and the administration, then suppressing and intimidating those who somehow managed to slip through the screening was what democracy was actually all about. And if that proved insufficient, flipping the votes with computer programs specifically engineered to accomplish winning was “What the heck, winning is everything!” And because “Reagan proved, deficits don’t matter,” plundering deficits became the new fiscal responsibility.
The press was free so long as it limited itself to supporting the administration, and reporting on Brownie troops sending letters and care packages to the too many times deployed military. We can’t show the returning coffins because that “is too much an invasion of the bereaved’s privacy; it assaults the dignity of the fallen hero.” Don’t look at the Freedom of speech and of assembly and of petitioning the government for a redress of grievances required permits and the prior-payment of appropriate fees in order to gather behind guarded, chain-link fencing miles from the object of the verbalizations. “We don’t wiretap because first you have to have a court order,” and even if we do, it’s patriotic for you not to care, because if you don’t have anything to hide you shouldn’t be worried it. (What Fourth Amendment?) And, although, other than the qualifications for national office, there is no mention in any of the seven organizing articles or in the Bill of Rights amendments to the Constitution that US citizenship is the delimiting factor, we can’t extend the privilege of habeas corpus or any of the Constitutional rights, even the right to not endure torture, to non-citizens under US jurisdiction because . . . well, because the administration said so. It is a unitary executive that doesn’t have to do anything it doesn’t want to do, and can do whatever it wants to, even when it’s against the law and the Constitution.
For Republicans, in 2004 and 2006 and 2008, being an “American” was being patriotic, and being patriotic was agreeing with whatever the administration and the GOP demanded you agree with. It was being Christian according to their definition of Christianity. Being an “American” meant believing that there was never adequate excuse for either abortion or being gay or bi- or anything other than straight down the line straight. Frozen cells that were destined for incineration as bio-hazards were nonetheless sacrosanct fully human beings beyond the reach of medical research, and being “American” was hating to the core of one’s being any orientation or identification other than straight (And, can you prove you are, or can you, to our satisfaction, adequately vociferously deny you aren’t gay?). Being “a Christian American” (and there is no other “American”) to Republicans meant it was shunting gays and lesbians into some diminished definition of citizenship, with commensurately diminished rights of citizenship.
Through all of November 4 I was anxious. The hate-drenched vituperative from the Right was cacophonous, and every poll showed the outcome of the election was never clear. They could win, by either hook or crook, or by a legitimate majority. If they did, the foul stench would not cease engulfing a country that is more important to me than my own life. I had devoted nearly every waking moment of the past 13 years trying, to the scant limits of my ability, to educate everyone I could reach of the manifest and not so manifest deprecations Republicans had supported, and how each and all were an attack on the very definitions and fiber that truly was America. And I worried, might this be the end of the experiment that was begun that December of 1791, when the Constitution was ratified?
The choice was stark. We had a fellow, on the one hand, with a temperament given to bullying execratory outbursts, who had demonstrated neither an interest in nor knowledge of our Constitution, whose knowledge of international relations was sparse, who acknowledged weaknesses in economic subtlety, someone who either could not remember the fine distinctions between the truth and what was not, or had little desire for truthful constancy, and whose lifetime academic record was abysmal. On the other hand was a gentleman with stellar academic credentials, who had a proven record for a thorough understanding and appreciation of our Constitution, who had forsaken riches beyond measure on behalf of service to others, and whose persona was one of calm contemplation, even while or after being under the most outrageously spurious attack.
It had been one hell of a long 13 years in the very bowels of hell. We were better, much, much better than what we had permitted ourselves to become. I was tired, as I turned on the radio. The first words noted that they, whoever “they” were, had called the election for Senator Obama. I was glad. In the coldness of my car, I raised an arm and pumped it down, “YES!” But the emotions had not been quite completely freed to overwhelm me.