My Level 10 Hangover in The Dawn of the New World According to George W. Bush
So George W. Bush is going to be in control of the world’s most powerful political force for another four years. Scary.
It took the Bush administration slightly over three years to transform the political apparatuses of the United States into a kleptocracy (aka rule by theft) that operates in the service of the very rich, Halliburton, and a constellation of lesser oil- and weapons-producing corporations. I’m reluctant to predict what the Bush kleptocracy will do over the next four years for fear of giving the bastards ideas, but there’s one thing I’m willing to go out on a limb over: those who voted for Bush aren’t going to have any influence over which way he turns the world, and they won’t benefit from it.
Bush has already talked about his re-election as a mandate to go further along the track he’s been on. This may or may not involve profound changes, but I suspect that by 2008, the world is going to look quite a lot different than it did at the beginning of the Bush presidency, and that Jerry Falwell and Halliburton will get more than their share of the benefits. The changes in America will probably be less tangible but more profound than a physical alteration of Manhattan’s skyline and most won’t be for the collective betterment of humankind. A radical American kleptocracy probably won’t transform the world of 2008 into Kinshasa or, for that matter, Baghdad. Thus, I’m not distraught over the Bush victory, just depressed by it. Bush isn’t going to bring down Armageddon on our heads, and he won’t precipitate the Apocalypse. Just a nastier, seedier version of what we have right now.
One of the things that has helped to alleviate my depression since the election is that I happened, quite accidentally, to stumble onto a fascinating prism of American election politics on the Internet. I’m a member of a Yahoo list-serve for a baseball simulation game called Scoresheet. The list-serve is moderated by an insomniac Southern California-based paralegal who is obsessed with Jessica Alba, knows more about baseball than most major league general managers and will argue rules and most statistical details until they and anyone who opposes him are run ragged. Elsewise, he’s witty and civilized, at least in cyberspace, and over the last several years he’s collected a group of American and Canadian baseball nuts to discuss baseball at a statistically-expert level, along with anything else that comes up. Over the U.S. election and the days that have followed it , the Bush re-election came up bigtime.
Political postings to the list began early on election day pretty much as the media’s election coverage did—with a sense that Bush was in trouble, and that Kerry was going to win. Around midday someone discovered that the Las Vegas oddsmakers were giving 2-1 odds on a Kerry win, and for most of the afternoon, as the odds rose to 3.25 to 1, it was more a discussion of how soundly Kerry was going to whup Bush than of whether he would. The Bush supporters on the list hung out in the weeds for this festival of premature high-fives, and didn’t commit themselves to more than token postings until the first results showed that Florida wasn’t going to Kerry. Then it became clear that roughly half of those online were backing Bush.
The Bush supporters had an increasingly merry time as the evening progressed and results sifted in. The pro-Kerry posters, by 10 p.m. were posting “oh-oh”s, and outright expressions of disbelief and despair.
The posting deluge came the morning after the election, and it continued all day—in all, about 250 posts. At the extremes, the Kerry supporters were calling the Bushites redneck assholes, and the Bush supporters were stinging the Kerry people with accusations of naiveté and arrogance. But between those rhetorical extremes, an interesting exchange took place over why Bush won and why Kerry lost. Most of the claims and counterclaims, even the extreme ones, struck me as pretty accurate-to-character. The Bush supporters carried that uniquely American strain of fundamentalism—we’re right, you’re wrong, and fuck you if you don’t like us, you ungrateful pisstanks—that is characteristic of Bush himself. But on the other side, the Kerry supporters were naïve and arrogant, unable to get past their sense of their own moral superiority to the kind of punch-and-kick tactics that the Republicans have become so good at.
What was common to both sides was their self-involvement: Americans, whether Republicans or Democrats, think the world is about them, and the thing that infuriates them all more than anything is the suggestion that it isn’t. When one of the Canadian posters pointed out that U.S. casualties from the war on terror, including the 9/11 dead, remains well under 5000, while the “liberation” of Iraq has resulted in more than 100,000 Iraqi deaths, many civilian, there were howls of outrage. Americans believe that comparing dead Iraqis with dead Americans is mixing apples and oranges. To them, the WTC casualties are murders. The dead Iraqi civilians are collateral damage, part of the cost of bringing freedom to Iraq. What worries me is the possibility that Bush’s believers might decide to liberate New England or Canada from Satan’s grip using the same logic.
But the exchange on the scoresheet list-serve, even in its nutty moments, wasn’t stupid. As the day wore on, the attacks and counterattacks moderated, and there was a palpable determination from both sides to bring it back to civility. What we ended up with, was what I think is called in diplomatic jargon, “a frank exchange of views”. Given the cast of characters online, this was surprising and quite gratifying. On the left side was an idealistic middle-class 24 year old from somewhere in the Midwest, an antiglobalist with spiritual overtones who couldn’t resist calling Bush supporters “rednecks”; a mid-40s freelance journalist who has lived all over the world, is married to a black Jamaican woman and seemed utterly without prejudice of any kind—except against the New York Yankees, of whom the very mention turns him into a screeching 9-year old. There was also an expat New Yorker living in Toronto because he’s married to a Canadian. This man knows more about the defensive talents of Major League infielders than is healthy, but wasn’t sure what was wrong with John Kerry, except that his pals in New York didn’t much like him.
On the right side was a Southern born-again Christian who works fulltime as a Republican party organizer; an atheist libertarian mathematician from California who loathes the flabby-mindedness of Democrats to the verge of frothing incoherence; an American graduate student doing American Studies at a minor British university who’s clearly developed a near-clinical persecution complex defending the Bush Administration to his fellow-students, and about a dozen ‘tweeners who might, on any given issue, fall to the left or right. As a collective, I’d have to say they are a lot more god-fearing than an equivalent group of Canadians would be, but they’re less homophobic than you’d expect from a group of rabid baseball fans.
So let me summarize what I heard them say about why George Bush convinced a majority of Americans to vote for him a second time:
1.) Bush didn’t so much win the election as the Democrats lost it. Most recognized Bush’s vulnerability over the aftermath of the Iraq invasion and the screw-up on the economy, but believed that the Democrats were tactically incapable of exploiting Bush’s weaknesses, and (more important) incapable of mounting a convincing alternate program of action themselves.
2.) No one liked John Kerry. The Republicans believed he didn’t know his own mind, and thus flip-flopped on crucial issues. The Democrats didn’t think Kerry made his case, and that he fought the election on Bush’s terms, all the while denying or hiding most of his own basic values.
3.) A sizeable number thought that the deciding issue in the election was gay marriage even though they recognized that it wasn’t in and of itself an important issue. Only one list member was rabidly against gay marriage. Bush, nearly everyone agreed, conflated it and other “moral certainty” issues to justify his other actions. Kerry slithered around the moral certainty issues, and that precipitated a catastrophe.
4.) Virtually everyone (except the idealistic anti-globalist) believed that Bush was the better war leader. Few could articulate why this was so beyond insubstantial enumerations of his “decisiveness” and “aggressiveness.” Interestingly, no one, even the lefties, was willing to defend Michael Moore. If nothing else, this last datum indicates how utterly the Republican machine won the propaganda battle. Moore may have fudged his materials, but Fahrenheit 9/11 still provided incontrovertible evidence that Bush was indecisive in the crunch, and merely posturing afterward.
Among the curious elements I noticed in the list-serve’s collective conversation was this one: in its latter stages, various posters found themselves explaining why they believed in god, how they conceived the role of a divine presence in America, or why they thought it was all nonsense. Between that preoccupation and the barely-noticed rural/urban split in the presidential vote (in virtually every jurisdiction except Arkansas and Oklahoma, the cities voted for Kerry and the hinterland voted for Bush) may lie the true cause of Bush’s victory, which has everything to do with fear and terror but surprisingly little to do with terrorists.
Terrorists, for instance, aren’t going to pull into the driveways of those isolated god-fearing households in Ohio and Missouri and Arkansas to murder the occupants or force them to do weird un-American things, and they’re not going to crash airplanes into the banks of all those Midwest towns. Terrorist attacks, if they come, will occur in the major cities, where the Kerry supporters live. The terror that pervades the American hinterland, the kind that Bush manipulated so effectively, is the terror that Muslims might move there, and that they might want to live next door. So might all those newly-wed homos, and those abortionists and stem-cell researchers and porno stars and other sorts of perverted, Gospel-ignoring Liberals. Somehow, George W. Bush convinced hinterland America that Osama bin Laden is a Liberal.
It’s this terror that hinterland Americans think George Bush is going to protect them from, and they’ll even send their kids to fight in Iraq to prevent them from having to live in the messy world of the 21st century. Bush has promised to kick all them Liberal asses, inside America and outside. I think he’s going to try.
People can laugh as much as they like about Bush’s verbal clumsiness, and the antediluvian values of Republicans. The Democrats did, and it blinded them to the point that they didn’t and don’t recognize that George W .Bush’s Republican communications apparatus pulled off a series of true communications miracles. First, it turned a war hero (Kerry) into a coward and a draft-dodger (Bush) into a military hero. Second, it transformed a slue-footed presidency that shouldn’t have been able to defend any portion of its record into a protector of everything good and decisive in the American soul, and third, it convinced America’s poor that corporate business is benevolent when the first thing the corporations tell themselves is that they’re not, but are consciously and even conscientiously bottom-lining and brutally indifferent to any interest that isn’t their shareholders.
The conclusions that mimic a level 9 hangover? A.) Americans aren’t crazy–not quite, anyway; B.) Americans are more religious and more crazed with fear than any other country in the Western world, even though the Americans most likely to be attacked are the least hysterical; C.) A majority of Americans much larger than the majority that voted for Bush wouldn’t bat an eye if Bush were to invade or bomb Iran or North Korea; D.) No one should underestimate George W. Bush or the Republicans again, and E.) Internet democracies, like the one on the scoresheet list-serve, may be America’s best hope.
What pushes the hangover to 10 is this thudding datum on how Bush’s America is likely going to behave. Yesterday’s Remembrance Day included ABC’s after-9:00 p.m. showing of the Steven Spielberg movie Saving Private Ryan—something, apparently, it plans to do each year from here on. The movie is hardly a showcase of liberal values, unless showing that war is violent and that decent men die horribly has somehow become something that only commie perverts admit to. Yet at least 20 affiliate stations, all in the now vastly-expanded U.S. bible belt, declined to show the movie.
What did they show instead? Who knows? They probably wanted to run Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, which is the Bush Republicans’ kind of war movie. And that really makes my head ache in a brand new way.
2125 w. November 12, 2004