Pageant of Locusts

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Recently by J. Paul Henderson: Rats! I Was Hoping for aShutdown

     

A year in advance, they're all gearing up and getting ready.

Quadrennially (although it seems continuously), a swarm of presidential candidates descends on the populous like locusts. Locusts are better for us, though. Because unlike presidential candidates, locusts only become a nuisance every seven years.

Three years ago, although it seems like just yesterday, all the major television networks were preempting their reality shows and other quality fare with two mini-series known as the Democrat and Republican conventions. For as long as I could hold my dinner down I watched, incredulous, as the four-year locusts paraded, one by one, across the television screen.

The stages were filled with has-beens, wannabes, winners and losers. At the Democrat convention, the winner was some guy named Barack — or Barry something or other. Some guy who can't even seem to recall where he was born, who was whisked from obscurity into the limelight by forces as yet unknown. That alone made it good theater. But adding to the interest was his choice of a running mate. To "balance" the ticket, he chose a painfully dull old white man.

Over on the Republican side the clear winner was John McCain, who over the course of his unfortunately long political career, had sold himself out to so many special interests that whores were complaining he was giving them a bad name. His choice for vice president was some chick from Alaska no one had ever heard of. Best I could figure, her primary qualifications for the job were big hair and good legs. Oh yeah, and that she had actually shot a bear, which made her a sort of female equivalent of Davy Crockett.

While the four-year locusts were on stage, actually taking themselves seriously, thousands of political groupies in silly-looking straw hats were screaming and shouting, waving signs filled with vacuous slogans, and chanting like over-zealous fans at a high school football game. They looked more ridiculous than a bunch of drunken Shriners.

Well, it's 2011 and the four-year locusts are back, getting geared up for next year. Strangely, unlike the seven-year locust, Americans actually like the four-year variety. They treat the plague descending on the land much as they would a beauty pageant. A sort of bevy of locusts.

In a way, this almost makes sense. The candidates all have charm and grace. And they all have talent (acting), good looks (a prerequisite), and superficiality (an absolute prerequisite). And as the pageant wears on, Americans rally u2018round their favorites.

During the Miss America Pageant, we root for the contestant with the best cleavage, the longest legs or most perfect teeth. Or the one with the well-cultivated southern accent or whose life-long violin lessons finally paid off. The Pageant of Locusts is much the same. The finalists are the ones with "charisma", "leadership potential", "a crowd pleasing personality" or some vague quality referred to as "presidential".

As the time for the crowing draws near, all the candidates but one have been eliminated. Because they fell short in the talent competition. In the Pageant of Locusts the talent competition consists of promising to give everybody everything at the expense of everybody else.

Once the crownings and parties are over, the real locust plague begins. The campaign. And in spite of the countless hours of time devoted to election coverage, members of what's laughingly referred to as the news media can't seem to manage imparting any information beyond the candidates' standing in the polls and the latest rounds of name-calling.

On those rare occasions when a candidate is actually asked a question of real substance or importance by a talking bobble head in TV Newsland, the answer is cloaked in hyperbole, euphemism and chicanery. They don't talk about the issues; they talk about talking about the issues.

"While my opponent has persisted in mud-slinging and character assassination, I've been taking my campaign to the people. I'm talking about the real issues of the campaign. Things like defense, taxes, jobs, the deficit, quality education, bringing us all together and moving America forward, creating a strong future for our children and grandchildren."

Uh huh. We're all listening. Tell us more. But of course, there is no more.

In fact, during the aftermath of the last Pageant of Locusts, each candidate's entire rationale for being entitled to live in the big mansion on the Potomac consisted to six words. McCain: "I was a prisoner of war." Obama: "Hope and change. Yes we can." Jeeeeze. We get better slogans than that from Chevrolet and Verizon.

By the time election day rolls around, we know less about our choices than we do about the winner of the Miss America Pageant. Indeed, thanks to Penthouse magazine, I learned more about Vanessa Williams than I did about either presidential candidate that year.

Deep down in our heart of hearts, we all know that in spite of all the promises of a better tomorrow, whoever wins is going to raise taxes, increase the deficit, enact more restrictive laws, kiss the behinds of big banks and multi-national corporations, blow the brains out of innocent people in obscure countries and blame all our problems on Muslims and the Chinese.

We all know that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Deep down inside we know the Pageant of Locusts is just expensive, skillfully-produced entertainment designed to create the illusion of government by and for the people. We know this. But we participate anyway. Like it's our duty or something.

I never cared who won the Miss America Pageant and I never voted in the American Idol competition. What would be the point? No matter who wins these contests, my life doesn't change in any way. Not so with the Pageant of Locusts. In that case. My life will get worse. No matter who wins.

J. Paul Henderson [send him mail] lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. See his site.

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