Death of a Political Fantasy

I was sad to hear this morning that The West Wing has been cancelled.

This was the only current broadcast television series that I thoroughly enjoyed. I thought the writing and acting was brilliant. And I only tuned in for the last two seasons, when the quality had supposedly fallen off.

I am also thoroughly sheepish about my devotion to this show. Why? Because the premise of the show contradicts some of my most deeply held beliefs about the American political scene.

The show offers a basically benevolent take on the presidency. Power brokers are generally depicted as well-meaning and decent. It’s a comforting, paternalistic vision. The people in charge will take care of us.

Maybe that’s the appeal of the show: It’s political fantasy.

Last night’s episode was a perfect example, and one that hit home. There was a crisis at a nuclear power plant that threatened to become a full-scale meltdown disaster. President Bartlett was competent, compassionate, conscientious, involved, on top of everything.

The parallels to Hurricane Katrina were unmistakable. It sent a chill down my spine. Yet what a contrast to the reality of the Bush administration’s management of the real disaster.

But I don’t relish The West Wing because it makes Bush look bad. I don’t buy the fantasy, period. I’m a complete cynic. I don’t think we can afford to trust our leaders. They serve themselves. And I never met a presidential administration that I liked.

But it’s fun to watch The West Wing and pretend.

A Ballot in the Head

There’s a climate of anger and anxiety in New Orleans these days, and amongst displaced New Orleanians wherever they are. There’s also a heightened level of political awareness. People are paying more attention to their government, and they’re pissed off at every level of government: local, state, federal, you name it.

In our supposed democracy, that should be a recipe for a changing of the guard. Many of us feel our so-called leaders have failed us. We want new leaders.

We were supposed to have an election here in February, for mayor and city council and I’m not sure what else. But the elections have been postponed indefinitely (by the state of Lousiana), a decision which is now being disputed in court.

I think that’s terrible. We need to have the elections on schedule. Yes, plenty of people will have to vote absentee. Yes, there are many logistical challenges given the flood damage here.

But the big headline of the day is how there’s been a strong turnout for the elections in Iraq.

If we can sponsor elections in Iraq, why can’t we do it in Louisiana?

Roll Up the Sleeves

This is an e-mail sent by Sharon Worthy, who I believe was press secretary for Michael Brown of FEMA, on September 4, 2005:

From: Worthy, Sharon < e-mail redacted >
Sent: Sunday, September 04, 2005 10:17 AM
To: michael.d.brown < e-mail redacted >
Subject: Your shirt

Please roll up the sleeves of your shirt…all shirts. Even the president rolled up his sleeves to just below the elbow.

In this crises and on TV you just need to look more hard-working…ROLL UP THE SLEEVES!

Just released on nola.com as a PDF.

It’s Official

Today, the Green Party of Louisiana became an officially recognized political party in the state of Louisiana.

Filing

Here’s to a greener future!

On a personal note: Wow. I was there at the founding of the Greater New Orleans Green Party, five years ago, and in the thick of the aborted first effort to form a state party which took place thereafter. I worked the door at the founding convention of the Green Party of Louisiana, when was it, three years ago? I was a delegate from Louisiana to the national convention last summer. I haven’t been as involved lately, but Leenie and Steve came by my house this evening with pix and video of the event, which I helped them get online. I was happy to be a part of the occasion in a small way.

Newdow’s Back!

Dr. Michael Newdow is back with a vengeance. He’s just filed another suit against the “under God” phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance — this time with eight other plaintiffs. Strangely enough, the New York Times article about this doesn’t make mention of the fact that he’s also filed suit against the saying of a prayer at Bush’s inauguration.

Code

For about the past month or so the local NPR affiliate has been saying that “many of our listeners have told us that NPR is more important to them now than ever,” followed by a plug to support the station financially. Could there be any doubt that “now more than ever” is a coded reference to Bush’s electoral victory?

Votes per Dollar

My friend Jason Neville put this together from data collected at opensecrets.org and CNN. He couldn’t find a vote total for Peroutka, but I found a number on the candidate’s website. I thought it put an interesting perspective on the 2004 presidential race.

Candidate Votes Money Raised Votes-Per-Dollar
Cobb 104,087 $133,576 0.78
Badnarik 373,729 $841,498 0.44
Peroutka 129,255 $654,757 0.19
Kerry 55,546,066 $317,788,245 0.17
Bush 59,106,230 $360,651,752 0.16
Nader 391,330 $3,950,963 0.10

Update — Perhaps the point is better made by figuring dollars per vote:

Candidate Votes Money Raised Dollars-Per-Vote
Cobb 104,087 $133,576 $1.28
Badnarik 373,729 $841,498 $2.25
Peroutka 129,255 $654,757 $5.07
Kerry 55,546,066 $317,788,245 $5.72
Bush 59,106,230 $360,651,752 $6.10
Nader 391,330 $3,950,963 $10.10

Purple States

If the electoral votes for each state were allotted proportionally, a map like this might make sense. Puts things in a different perspective, doesn’t it? The “winner takes all” method used by most states creates an artificial polarization, but this map shows a continuum that is much more reflective of how people actually voted.

Tragic Gaiety

It doesn’t take a genius to discern that, even though the election results are not official yet, there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth, not to mention rending of garments and beating of breasts, amongst those who voted for Kerry and those who despise the Bush administration.

But that’s absolutely the wrong attitude!

Yes, the results of this election seem overwhelmingly negative, with conservatives sweeping into office and anti-gay measures passing everywhere. But tough times call for courage, not despair. Suck it up, people.

Now is not the time to weep and bemoan the state of affairs in our country. Instead, it is all the more necessary that we adopt an attitude of tragic gaiety. We need to be brave. We need to laugh in the face of doom.

We need to look square into the face of what our country is becoming, and redouble our resolve to change it. And we need to be joyful, relishing the task ahead of us, or we’ll just burn out.

Remember, voting is a basic duty in an alleged democracy, but it is really the least of our duties, and one of the least effective ways to make real change, given the system we have. We are not going to vote our way out this mess.

Today is the International Peace Holiday, a good time to reflect on what we can do to make our world a better place. Locally, some people are gathering at Lee Circle from 3-6 p.m. for “public art, public expression, public dissent, public fellowship in a public space.”

Do whatever you need to do, but do it with celebratory anger. Show ’em a fist and a smile.

Electoral Strategery

Two days until the election. I know a lot of people are sick of the hype. If you’re sick of it, please read no further. I just want to record my thoughts on the election before it goes down, for my own sake at least.

I predicted a Bush victory six months ago, and I’m sticking by that. Of course, I have no crystal ball; I don’t really know what will happen. But this prediction has proved to be a good psychological coping mechanism.

The Bush presidency has been far worse than I could have imagined, mainly because of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, which Noam Chomsky called a “gift to the hard jingoistic right.” The attacks gave Bush huge popular support, and he squandered it on an unjust war. The U.S. government often does bad things, but the war in Iraq is the most massive and blatantly unjust action I’ve witnessed yet.

All of which makes this election seem like the most important of my lifetime. Of course, this is only the seventh presidential election of which I have been cognizant. I don’t remember the Vietnam era.

So obviously, I’m against Bush. That much is simple.

So who to vote for on Tuesday? This is where things get complicated.

I’d prefer to vote for a candidate who reflects my values, like David Cobb of the Green Party. He can’t beat Bush, though. There’s only one man who can: John Kerry.

I don’t like the fact that Kerry supported the war on Iraq when even I, a private citizen, could see that it was unjustified. I don’t like the fact that he supported the Patriot Act which tramples on civil rights. I don’t like the fact that he has supported so much of the Bush agenda.

I can’t support Kerry on his merits. But perhaps I should vote for him for strategic reasons. I know many people who don’t like Kerry but are voting for him anyway. Most of these people seem to regard themselves as making a realistic and pragmatic choice in difficult times. They are going to choose Kerry not based on his merits and his record, but as a strategic or tactical vote. They are voting for him because he is not Bush, and he is the only candidate with a realistic chance of beating Bush. He may not be much better than Bush, but at least he’s a little better, and even a little difference makes a big difference, if you follow me. This is the well-known “lesser of evils” strategy which dominates American politics today.

I used to despise this kind of thinking, but I’ve become resigned to it. Until our electoral system changes, strategic voting and lesser-evilism are here to stay.

In fact, I’ll go one further. Suppose Kerry is not even a little better than Bush; suppose he is, on balance, exactly the same — better in some ways, worse in others; or suppose he is actually worse. We won’t really know unless he takes office, of course, but this is a thought experiment, so just suppose. Even if Kerry makes a worse president than Bush, our first premise in this tortuous train of logic is still intact: He is still not Bush. If you are deep into the “Anybody But Bush” mentality, then this alone provides all the justification you need to vote for the man. Let us further assume that presidents in their second term are always more powerful and capable. A second Bush term would validate all the terrible things he’s done in the first term, and presumably he’d escalate his campaign to destroy America. But a first term by somebody else — anybody else — would mean a weaker president, less capable of damaging the country.

I’m not saying I accept this logic, but grant it for the sake of argument, because it takes the issue of Kerry’s merits off the table completely, and allows us to focus on the question:

Should I cast a strategic vote for Kerry? If we grant all of the above, the answer would seem to be “yes.”

But if I’m going to be all strategic about my vote, all pragmatic and realistic, I really need to consider the electoral college. It’s abundantly clear that all of Louisiana’s electoral votes will go to Bush, and exactly zero will go to Kerry. And in most states this is true, either one way or another. There seem to be only a few states where the outcome is in question.

From the perspective of lesser-evilism and ABB-ism, the strategic value of my vote only holds true if Kerry wins by a very narrow margin indeed. If he loses, I’ve wasted my vote. If he wins by a big margin, he didn’t need my vote after all.

Some people, like my friends David Bryan or Michael Homan, seem to justify voting for Kerry in hopes that he’ll win the popular vote, even if he loses the election, but I find this a remarkably uninspiring argument.

I feel confident in the fact that, in Louisiana at least, neither Kerry nor Bush will miss my vote. However, every single vote matters very much to third party candidates. They are not running to win; they are merely running to show.

Therefore I have concluded that the most strategic vote of all is a vote for a candidate who represents values I truly believe in. If anyone happens to read this who lives in a state where the outcome is assured, then I encourage you to vote your conscience, and don’t fall for this strategic claptrap.

I especially detest all the anti-Nader hype that people are wasting each other’s time with. Yes, right here in Louisiana people are arguing about this, just like everywhere else. But Nader, or any third-party candidate, is so far from making a difference here in Louisiana that it’s laughable. He’ll be lucky to get 1% of the vote. Meanwhile, registered Democrats are gonna hand Bush our state on a platter.

Of course, all of the above comments apply only to the majority of states, where one candidate or the other has the election locked. Things are pretty cut and dried here. People who live in the so-called battleground states are facing the more interesting dilemma. I don’t envy them.


Postscriptum: It will be no surprise if the results of this election are contested. In a way, I’m hoping for another debacle, because electoral reform will only happen when people are pissed off. But eventually a winner should emerge. If Bush wins, we’re screwed. If Kerry wins, it will be no great triumph. We’ll still be screwed. I think there’s a great danger that, with Kerry as president, many Americans who got worked up about this election will think the battle is over. But it won’t be. The battle for the direction of America will continue.

Finally, for an excellent analysis of the evils of the electoral college, and why Colorado is a state to watch during this election, see the Black Commentator article “Black Vote Smothered by Electoral College.”

Endorsement

Today our local news daily, the Times-Picayune, weighed in on the presidential race. They are endorsing… nobody.

…we cannot recommend either George W. Bush or John Kerry with confidence….

We take the endorsement process seriously and would like to be able to offer voters our advice in this race, as we have in so many others. But we have too many misgivings about both candidates to champion either one.

They don’t mention any other candidates. Not even in passing.

Hateful

Man, I thought the political rhetoric was pretty shrill this season, but last night I got an earful of some conservative AM radio that made my toes curl. This dude called the Democrats “vermin” and said the choice was between “Bush or death.” He also said the American people “fear” Teresa Heinz Kerry. I was only tuned in for a few minutes as I drove across town, but in that short period of time, the man packed in a whole lot of hate. Anyone who doesn’t understand how so many people support Bush should listen to the AM radio drumbeat for a while. This game is deep.

He almost made me wanna turn Democrat just to spite him. Almost.

Four More Years

Six months or so until our big presidential election. I’m going to be bold and predict Bush as the winner. This way, no matter what actually happens, I come out ahead. If Bush wins, I can say “told you so, knew it all along, saw it coming half a year ago.” And of course, if he loses, I can just be happy that he’s gone.