|We’re in the car after voting.
“If John Kerry wins he won’t be our president,” Gnat said.
Ah, a teachable moment. No, honey. He will be our president. He will be the new president, and we will respect him.
“What does respek mean?”
Man, that is a good question. It means we treat him like a teacher or the pastor or a doctor. Someone we should listen to when they talk and someone who is important to everyone. Because he’s the president, and we have to respect the job of president.
Because it’s hard and very important.
She looked out the window with the expression that either means she was processing my remarks or thinking about My Little Ponys. Since she said nothing else, I’ll never know.
Lovely day, Tuesday. I spent most of it quite sure Kerry would win. Even though I had vowed to avoid entirely the brain-boiling whipsaw emotions that attend any large election, I had dipped briefly into the news to read of the Florida exit poll, and I thought, well, that’s that. Shame. How will this play in Tehran, eh? The wrong signal at the wrong time to the wrong people. But what can you do.
"I want to go the Play Place," Gnat suggested after we'd voted: capital idea! En route I switched on the radio, and the host was recounting a projection by a highly admired political analyst who said Florida would go for Kerry, the electoral college would be tied, and the House would settle it. This seemed even worse. Four more years of selected-not-elected, four lame crippled years with more of the same rhetoric. Michael Moore would doubtless paint “12” on his knobs, so to speak, and crank up the volume even more. O joy. I shut off the radio.
Half the Play Place was roped off for voting, but the gigantic kid’s clamber-structure was open. And deserted. One other child, one couple. Their daughter came out of the maze after a few minutes huffing that girl doesn’t want to play with me, I don’t like her. Which prompted me to find Gnat, and ask what happened.
"She kept following me around." This seems to bug her; it’s a standard complaint. But she had hurt the other girl’s feelings, so we went over and apologized. They reached common ground and were inseparable for the next half-hour: good, because I had a gammy leg and no intention of climbing up four stories to go down the slide. (Achy shin-muscle from sitting in one place, legs crossed, for too long.) I sat on the bench and read more of the Klemperer diaries. I’m up to the late 30s, when the long knives come out. Jews are forbidden to drive, since this arrogantly presumes to profit from the labor of good Aryan workers. (Seriously.) Jews must pay reparations. Jews must have their property assessed. Jews cannot use the library public rooms. And so forth. Every day a different decree; every day a different liberty removed. It’s remarkable, really – people get up, have breakfast, get the mail, tend the garden; in this sense they are unmolested. But imagine if every day you were informed of something you could no longer do, even if you didn’t do it. At first you take comfort to things you can still do, but it soon becomes apparent that any liberties you still possess are ones they have not yet gotten around to confiscating. But take them they will. There is time, and there is the will, and there are so many of them and so very few of you.
What to do but read history, smoke, and count the hours? And the author of this book has seven years left to go.
Then off to choir practice. I dropped Gnat off, went outside to pace around the church with the 5:30 cigarillo and listen to Hugh. He was ridiculously upbeat. He was confident of victory. I had a vision of Frank from “Blue Velvet” taking hits off the gas mask. Has he gone mad? Does he not know Kerry will win?
Still, it was good radio, so I kept it on. I remembered that I’d forgotten Gnat’s jacket earlier that day, and I had time to run home to get it. Might as well set the coffeemaker so there was a fresh pot when we got back from choir practice, too. Sped down 50th; stopped at the intersection of Lyndale. Kerry / Edwards supporters on all four corners, holding signs; four out of five cars honked. Love was in the air. One car plastered with Kedwards stickers tried to turn right on red, and as the driver inched forward an enthusiastic young supporter bolted in front of the car: thump. The driver got out in a trice, and others jumped over to help the girl up. She was fine. She was smiling. The driver was smiling. Go Kerry!
I had just watched someone get hit by a car and walk. My God, John Edwards was right.
When I got back to choir practice I was informed that the kids had moved to the church to run through their steps. And me without my video camera! Well, no: I had my video camera, because I had been filming the whole day for posterity. Got some nice shots in the sanctuary, scooped her up and headed for home. Spent the night with the radio off working on the website I hope you saw yesterday, the Interior Desecrators promo site. (Buy the book! Thank you.) My checked in with sporadic reports, since she was watching the coverage. I nodded my thanks and went back to watching “Below,” a ghost movie set in a WW2 submarine. Ah, the 40s, when they got it, man, when the country was united, and we had the guts to face up to incorporeal spirits intent on justice, at least as defined by the Ectoplasm-Axis threat. And now that country, the one I thought I knew, was gone.
My wife informed me that Ohio was trending towards Bush.
I did not finish the movie, but I assume the Allies won. I went downstairs and watched some coverage, and by “watch” I mean I put my hand over my eyes when I looked towards the TV and tried to discern the general drift of things by the dominant colors on the screen.
Around one I called up Drudge – figuratively speaking – and it said “BUSH WINS.” Well, to bed, then.
Except that Hugh Hewitt had said he’d call me when Bush won. And he was on the air until, what, four AM? I took a cordless phone into the spare room and slept there.
Woke with Gnat’s cold hands on my neck. Wife in shower. Head downstairs. Push coffee button. Check clock: crap. Up an hour earlier than usual. Get paper: no. Get video camera, make establishing shot, track through house, out door, zoom in on headline. Criminey Joe, it’s one of those “too close to call” headlines that make editors pull our their hair in thick handfuls. The entire mechanics of the newspaper industry conspire to keep you from doing the very thing you’re in business to do: deliver the news. If the presses have to roll, then roll they do. It pained me.
Made breakfast for everyone. Turned on the TV. Some fat guy and Ann Coulter. The fat guy is smiling, but he looks like he’s trying to extrude a petrified beet through his sphincter. Ann is smiling in a fashion that suggests she was just in the green room with Al Franken, and had asked him to choose: I can kill you with my legs, or my hair. Your choice. No concession yet from Kerry. Long day? We’ll see.
Then it comes. It’s over.
Walking around downtown that afternoon, I listened to Kerry’s concession speech. Human, genuine, not a touch of Senatitus . . . well, then there’s the odd riff about the kids who gave him money for his campaign. I never understood the appeal of this meme. Kids don’t know anything about politics; they’re just reflections of their parents’ desires, and the idea of little kids handing piggy banks to a guy who’s married to a billion dollars seems unseemly. I’m relieved for Kerry, and wish him well. For heaven’s sake, he should be relieved, too. In his case the consolation prize is a life of unimaginable wealth and leisure, with plenty of time and resources to do good works. He could easily assume the Dole mantle, and become the guy we all like to like, in a way, after all, ‘cause, whatever. And I think that’s how he’ll turn out. Not that I know anything. But. I think the narrative of John Kerry’s life as he understood it pointed him at the White House; it was <vaderbreathing> his destiny. He made his bid at the worst possible moment, for him. Not the man for a time of war. He had to run as Janus - the anti-war warrior, the guy who voted for it before he voted against it, the guy who supported deposing Saddam but deplored the fashion of his deposition, the man who had to assure his supporters he would end the war as soon as he had finished continuing it. And so on. I think he understood the contradictions he had to make, and his peevish insistence on his unerring clarity was a way of dealing with the myriad of positions he had to take. All of that would have been compartmentalized and forgotten had he won, of course. A few months of psychic annoyance would be a small price to pay for such a large role in history.
But it didn’t happen. Imagine how you might feel if the script of your life, the plot, the storyline suddenly gets rewritten; imagine if you suddenly feel like a successful soap-opera hunk in his trailer reading the script and discovering you’re going to be shot on Friday. How do you react? I don’t think this defeat will reduce him to a muttering husk who stares in the mirror and sees The Cruel Injustice of Heartless Fate. Even though I think he’s a bit of fabulist inclined towards casual self-aggrandizement on an elemental level, I also think he’s fairly well-grounded when it comes down to the things that matter. I think he’ll shrug, laugh, go windsurfing, and maybe yell his head off for the sheer pleasure of it. F. Scott said a lot of smart things, but “There are no second acts” in American lives wasn’t one of them. Kerry is about to get his third act, the one with no audience except seagulls and servants, and I hope it’s his favorite one so far.
And what now for the rest of us? That’s another Bleat, I suppose; it’s late and I would like to rest. My Newhouse column this week was written the day before the election, and said that one election isn’t a mandate. We’re still all over the map on a great many issues, as ever, and the desire for compromise is still a desire to settle the issue OUR way. At the end of the day the Line will be moved; it’s just a question of where it ends up. The “progressive” impulse questions everything; the conservative impulse wonders why we question what has worked for us before. What emerges from this dynamic satisfies neither, and fuels the next round of debate. I’d rather have that than 30 years of a static society that ends up so ossified and brittle it shatters into a thousand pieces. Because there’s always someone there with a dustpan, a broom, and a long loud speech about how the Jews wanted it to turn out this way because they control the Hefty Bag industry.
You want comity? You want progress? Enough with the catastrophe rhetoric, then. Enough with the nonsense. Enough with the gasbag fantasies. Reading the Klemperer diaries make me realize again what real true perfidy looks like, and how those who view a Bush victory as “four more years of evil” are parading their petulant variety of moral idiocy for the approval of the claque. They’re the modern Rumpelstiltskins, ripping themselves in half in anger to protest the price of pants.
It’s a great & rare idea: one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all. I think we can hammer out the particulars in a spirit of good will, eh? Or not. Our choice.
“Who is the father of George W. Bush?” Gnat asked on the way to school today. Oh boy.
“You’re not going to believe this, but his name is George Bush, too.”
“True.” Pause. Should I? Might as well. “And he was the president once, too.”
“George Bush’s daddy was president too? You’re joking me. That’s silly.”
And so it begins. But if all goes as it usually does, in 14 years she’ll vote for someone I don’t like; he’ll win, and she’ll and remind me: you taught me to respect the President.
If I can give her that much, I’ve done my job.
And your job is to BUY THE BOOK! Preview here, if you got locked out yesterday. And I thank you.