LXXX – When Will They Figure It Out?

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Presidential
campaigns in the 1950's did not include make-believe debates between
establishment-anointed puppets. Instead, Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai
Stevenson gave speeches (to different groups) that were carried
live on television. A news report, at the time, told of a mental
hospital where such televised speeches were shown to the patients.
The talks got the patients so upset that the hospital had to turn
off the television sets. This should have provided an early warning
to the ruling elite!

I
must admit that I have watched very little of the Democratic National
Convention. Like earlier asylum inmates, there is only so much of
this sanitized madness that I can take before donning my Napoleon
attire. As a consequence, I rely primarily on Internet reports,
along with television news and newspaper accounts, to provide what
are gratuitously called the "high spots" of the convention.

The
other evening, some of the usual suspects of political commentating
clumped together on one cable channel to lament the continuing decline
in voting among the multitudes, whose continuing participation in
this charade is necessary to keep the racket afloat. The assembled
babblers — perhaps hoping that great insight might be distilled
from the pooling of their ignorance — went down the usual laundry
list of explanations for the increasing disinterest in voting. Apathy,
registration difficulties, too many competing interests, etc., came
in for discussion.

Like
those who refuse to acknowledge a naked man at a party, nobody was
willing to take note of the fact that millions of Americans have
become painfully aware of the utter meaninglessness of political
activism and voting to their lives. We have long had a one-party
system in America — the Establishment Party — with indistinguishable
candidates from indistinguishable branches of this party offered
as "choices" to voters. The 2004 elections make this abundantly
clear. At a time when cloning has become a "bioethical"
issue, we have George Bush and John Kerry as clones of the Establishment
Party: each favors the war in Iraq, and Kerry has announced his
desire to expand it; each favors the Patriot Act and its
attendant police state; each favors a more intensive raid on taxpayers'
incomes to support social programs they favor. Voters are expected
to become delirious over this choice? The sacker at our neighborhood
supermarket offers me a far more significant choice when he asks
"plastic or paper?"

Even
asylum inmates can appreciate distinctions between sane and
insane behavior: they just don't always know which position
to take. As Abraham Maslow observed, this is why brain-injured persons
try "to maintain their equilibrium by avoiding everything unfamiliar
and strange and by ordering their restricted world in such a neat,
disciplined, orderly fashion that everything in the world can be
counted upon." To have to listen to the mad babblings of fellow
inmates and then hear more lunacies on television, blurs the distinctions
between sanity and insanity upon which a return to rationality rests.

Fearful
that an outbreak of ideas, or even substantial questions, might
infect the convention delegates — and, perhaps, the American public
— the Establishment Party saw to it that political protests be confined
to concentration camp "free speech zones" constructed
at great distance from the convention center. Instead of confronting
thoughtful men and women who opposed the war and the present police
state, the delegates listened to a speech from a twelve-year old
girl who gave the kind of talk one would expect from a twelve-year
old. While she lacked the rhetorical style of professional politicians
— which, in itself, was a relief — the substance of her presentation
fit in perfectly with the rest of the offerings.

This
convention — like the rest of modern politics — seemed driven by
fear; the fear that something controversial might be uttered, or
that the carefully laid plans of the control-freaks in the party
might be upset by an outburst of spontaneity (perhaps like the Nebraska
delegate at the 1956 GOP convention who tried to nominate "Joe
Smith" for vice-president). Even the NASA photo of John Kerry
— in which he resembled an Oompa-Loompa (ask your kids if you don't
know the reference) — seemed to upset the Kerry crowd almost as
much as the prospect of an issue getting onto the floor.

When
I did turn to the coverage of this convention, I had the feeling
that I was watching a combination rock music awards/evangelical
tent revival meeting. Even members of punk rock groups were on hand
to encourage their fans to vote. It figures. And there was an abundance
of Hollywood celebrities, whose presence became the substance for
some giggly television reporters. Not to allow the Republicans a
monopoly on non sequiturs, one pro-war onlooker — having exhausted
the list of official lies used to gather support for the war — offered
the justification that Saddam Hussein had mistreated women, an accusation
that made me wonder if, perhaps, the United States should have declared
war on the Kennedys!

This
sterile convention came down to being its own reason for being.
I was reminded of a song from one of the best anti-war movies ever
produced, Richard Attenborough's Oh! What a Lovely War. As
American soldiers were unloading from troop ships en route to their
ritualistic slaughter in World War I, they sang "We're Here
Because We're Here." Such was the only apparent purpose in
this Boston gathering of those who have not fully dissipated either
their gullibility or their faith in ours. If a consensus
of opinion amongst the conventioneers could be identified, it might
come down to nothing more than this: "vote for Kerry instead
of Bush, because Kerry is u2018good' and Bush is u2018evil.'" Where
have we heard this refrain before?

There
was a time when political conventions and campaigns could be counted
upon to evoke a snippet of intellectual interest — at least enough
to keep intelligent souls energized about the process. The last
major presidential campaign with an ideological base to it was probably
the Goldwater candidacy in 1964. His words — written by my late
friend Karl Hess — "extremism in defense of liberty is no vice;
and moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue," had substance
to them. In contrast, the words — as well as the level of thought
behind them – that will be most remembered from the 2004 Democratic
convention will probably be Teresa Heinz Kerry's "shove it!"

Politics
is even more of a carnival today than when H.L. Mencken so labeled
it decades ago. There is greater importance attached to getting
the right mix of politically-correct group representations — even
of children — than for a presentation of substantive issues. The
obligatory whine of "inequality" — a divisive concept
that is essential to the health of the Democratic Party — helped
divert attention from issues that might have upset the party's insistence
upon lockstep thinking. Meanwhile, at a location far removed from
the convention center, the few voices of protest extant in Boston
were penned up in cages! At the same time, a woman inside the convention
center was forcibly removed by Boston police for unfurling a banner
reading "End the Occupation of Iraq," a message not approved
by Democratic Party officials determined to maintain the bipartisan
nature of modern politics.

Even
the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania — asked by a reporter why
the Iraq war was being played down at the convention — responded
with an answer that would have sent the aforementioned asylum inmates
into bedlam. The key issue that concerned most Americans, he opined,
was the need for alternative energy sources! Is this man trying
to outdo George Bush for mendacity, or has he been ensconced for
so long in so many "special interest" smoke-filled rooms
that he truly believes this kind of nonsense? Does he imagine parents
of young children wringing their hands not over a proposed
return to conscription — as both wings of the Establishment Party
seem bent on bringing about — but over the question of solar panels
and affordable fuel cells?

The
political establishment depends upon the continuing participation
of men and women who believe in the preposterous; provided it has
been certified by the kind of political conventions and media coverage
to which we are subject. What sends members of the establishment
into a state of delirium is the question: what if they gave an election
and nobody showed up? What if men and women understood — as more
are discovering — that no matter who they vote for, the government
always gets elected, and the same fundamental policies will be adopted?
The greatest political protest that could be mounted, this year,
would not be for people to content themselves with remaining in
well-hidden protest cages, but to stay home on election day. As
the voters of Florida discovered in 2000, your vote will have absolutely
no impact on who is elected to office or what policies they will
pursue. The political establishment made that decision for you when
they offered you the meaningless Bush/Kerry choice. But what kind
of message might a ten percent voter turnout produce?

I
have long believed — along with Leopold Kohr, and his student, E.F.
Schumacher — in the virtues of smallness. Individuals are
ground up and destroyed by large, collective systems, but small
groupings provide for the face-to-face dealings that allow for both
individuality and cooperation to coexist. The small town of Florissant,
Colorado — located just a few miles from a town in which I once
lived — affords an example of which I speak. Paco Bell, a donkey,
just won re-election as mayor of this town, whose residents enjoy
satirizing the insane political system. How might the political
establishment react if, in a U.S. Senate race – in which the
Republicratic candidates each promise to intrude more into your
life, property, and paycheck — was suddenly exposed to a write-in
campaign on behalf of someone like Paco Bell? If Caligula's horse
could hold a seat in the Roman Senate, why not a donkey in Washington?
What other meaningful choices do you have?

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