Saturday, November 17, 2012

The thin blue line

Like a cat finding itself unexpectedly wet, the Republicans have spent the last week and a half trying to figure out what the hell happened.  According to Mitt Romney, people voted for Obama because he bribed them..  Karl Rove is pretty sure arithmetic itself has been revamped by leftists.  The Republicans of the Georgia State Senate heard a presentation about mind-control techniques developed by the Rand Corporation and apparently disseminated by microwaves.  The chairman of the Maine GOP reports sightings of black voters in his state, dozens of them; since Obama carried Maine by a hundred thousand votes, this may not be all that significant, but it sure makes you wonder.  Could the Saucer People be involved?

Would you like me to tell you what happened?  The Republicans underestimated the willingness of Americans to stand in line.

For a long time, standing in line was something people did over there in those socialist countries.  The British, it was said, were especially fond of queueing as it reminded them of the glory days of World War II, and the austerity that lasted into the 1950s.  There was a joke that if you stepped into a doorway in London to light a cigarette, you would find twenty people lined up behind you.  In Moscow On the Hudson, the Robin Williams character joins every line he sees and only then tries to find out what it's for.  ("Shoes?"  "Toilet paper, I think.")  On first entering an ordinary New York supermarket, he literally faints at the sheer variety of coffee, an abundance that Americans take for granted.  We used to think it was an assault on our freedom to be asked to wait for anything.  Gas lines in the 1970s doomed Jimmy Carter to a one-term presidency. 

How times change.  Or maybe Americans have more time to spare these days.  A company that announces two hundred job openings will get ten thousand applicants.  When doctors and dentists set up a temporary free clinic, far more uninsured Americans show up than they can treat.  Waiting to board a plane, it is hard not to think of our ancestors (some of them) lined up at Ellis Island hoping for admission to the New World.  The TSA doesn't care if you limp or your eyes are bad, as long as you don't have more than three ounces of toothpaste or object to being examined like a Pomeranian at a dog show.

We're happy to stand in line voluntarily, even for items that are not limited like World Series tickets.  Fans complain about the more recent Star Wars movies, but if George Lucas announced a new one they would already be at the gigoplexes.  People who grew up standing in midnight lines wearing wizard hats for the latest Harry Potter installment are happy to line up for days in order to obtain the newest doo-dad from Apple, with trail mix, bottled water and last year's Apple doo-dad to sustain them.  So what in the world made the Republicans think that creating long lines would discourage people from voting?

They worked on this for two years at least, making the registration process in some states as complicated as trying to get a patent out of Dickens's Circumlocution Office.  People had to spend time and money they could hardly afford tracking down birth certificates and applying for photo IDs.  Thousands of perfectly legal voters were "purged" for having suspiciously foreign names or failing to respond to form letters.  Early voting hours were sharply curtailed or cancelled outright.  On Election Day, voters stood in line from dawn to dusk; in one Florida county, the last ballot was cast at 1:30 in the morning.  To be fair, authorities in Arizona and Florida tried to shorten the lines by mailing out materials in Spanish which gave the election date as November 8, on the theory that people who read Spanish are idiots.  That didn't work, either.  Nor did scary billboards in non-white neighborhoods threatening would-be voters with prison.  They did everything but hire snipers to shoot people lined up at the polls, and I'm sure they considered it.  That this was an artificially created "problem" was clear from the relative ease with which people voted in the Democratically-controlled states, even the most populous.  No problems in California, where the ballot was clogged with propositions and initiatives easily understood by anyone trained in Constitutional law.  No problems in New York, parts of which still had no electricity.  No problems in Washington, where you can vote by mail.

People just said, no, they won't take my vote.  The right to vote has been symbolic of full citizenship for women, for African-Americans, for naturalized citizens, and it's where Americans dug in their heels this year.  As clear as Barack Obama's victory was, it would have been more impressive without all the chicanery.  We must hope his promise to "fix this" is not a hollow one.     


Friday, November 02, 2012

There won't be blood

It's no secret that the Republicans, and especially Mitt Romney, have some serious problems with reality.  Even a hurricane of historic proportions, powerful enough to change the coastline of the United States, was unable to break through their formidable barriers of privilege, money, and sheer what-the-hell-is-that stupidity.  But sometimes, the cost is higher than they know.

When Sandy struck, Barack Obama got to call for Air Force One and Marine One and look presidential because, you know, he's the President.  Romney hinted he'd love to look over ruined towns in New Jersey, but the governor intimated that he'd be better off taking a flying leap at the International Space Station.  So Romney went back to Ohio and his staff scrambled to acquaint him with the concept of compassion ("Message:  I care.")  They bought thousands of dollars worth of canned goods and had them delivered to a Romney event, where those attending were handed a can of tuna and told to hand it to the grinning candidate while the cameras rolled.  They had Romney pick up some small cartons and ostentatiously carry them to a waiting truck, one at a time (I could have hefted three or four, and I'm pretty arthritic).  They assumed the press were too stupid to figure any of this out, much less report it accurately, and gleefully, to the rest of us.  The press responded to the insult by peppering Mittums with questions about his position on FEMA, which, surprisingly enough, did a 180 on Thursday afternoon.   And then Romney came out with one of his patented parables about voluntarism -- the one about the football field full of litter after a celebration.  How to clean it up?  Well, sir, you just get nineteen buddies and each of you takes one five-yard sliver, and in no time you've demonstrated that nobody needs the government.

After the compassion offensive, it took me a little while to catch my breath.  Over a hundred people dead, millions without electricity from North Carolina to Wisconsin, entire communities scoured from the earth, the country's largest city crippled, infrastructure in ruins, people waiting in the cold for food, water, gasoline...does any sentient being really believe this is going to be like picking up toilet paper and plastic cups on a football field?  A better analogy would be the reconstruction of Germany after the Second World War.  Implacable stupidity  always makes me want to take a nap.  And then, refreshed, I saw where it could have gone right but, thankfully, did not.

Image is everything in politics.  Talking the talk replaced walking the walk as long ago as 1988, when the Veterans of Foreign Wars booed ex-bomber pilot Lloyd Bentsen and cheered ex-National Guardsman Dan Quayle at their annual convention.  Maybe image triumphed even longer ago, when draft dodger John Wayne became synonymous with wartime heroism during the Vietnam escapade.  Looking the part is more important than doing the job, and the mere image of Mitt Romney collecting canned goods was deemed more important than reality, even though -- stay with me -- the last thing the Red Cross wants is a bunch of canned food.  They asked for money, and they asked for blood.  

Mitt Romney missed out on the photo op of a lifetime -- one that might well have changed the election.  If he couldn't tour the disaster, he could lead by example by donating blood.  He could explain to people who are squeamish about the process that it takes about half an hour, it isn't dangerous, it isn't painful, and it actually helps.  In fact, it epitomizes the individual action that he seems to think can take the place of huge government programs.  Agencies can bring in heavy equipment, but they can't give blood.  Only human beings can do that.  A lot of Romney supporters claim to be "pro-life," but on examination this turns out to be a euphemism for "anti-choice."  What could be more honestly pro-life than giving life itself?  Romney at the Red Cross, reclining in a chair -- it could finally erase the memory of the 47 percent speech.

I feel safe in saying this not because nobody in Romneyland reads this blog, but because it's the last thing he would ever do.  Give something away without any hope of personal gain?  This spoiled trust-fund brat whose entire life has been dedicated to self-interest, this conscienceless sociopath who will say anything to achieve power so he can practice self-interest on a global scale comes from a family with a proud tradition of avoiding military service over at least four generations.  Strapping a dog to the top of a car for a long road trip was not the act of a bumbling sitcom dad but a stunning display of complete lack of empathy for a living thing.  Look into those dead eyes -- this is someone who didn't need Ayn Rand to teach him the joys of selfishness.  Mitt Romney would no more donate a unit of blood to a stranger than he would give a kidney to a homeless beggar.  He made his fortune destroying companies and the lives of their employees (if corporations really were people, Bain Capital would be indicted for murder).  And now we must depend on a relative handful of people in Ohio to end him.  Bloodlessly.