Election Day 1998 dawned as a November morning out of William Cullen Bryant, with “piercing winter frost, and winds, and darkened air.” We walked to the firehall polling place, passing the pioneer cemetery, burial ground of veterans of the Revolution, all those Ebenezers and Ethans who cleared the land and endured Valley Forge so that we could depress a lever for Al D’Amato or Chuck Schumer. (In fact, the levers depress us.) Three days after Halloween, the tables are turned, for on Election Day, it is we who haunt the dead.
No entrails-slurping zombie out of Night of the Living Dead could be as repulsive as New York’s Senate candidates, Al D’Amato and Chuck Schumer. In the small cities of upstate New York, where much of 20th-century history has been shaped by the conflict between Italians and non-Italians, D’Amato has been every Presbyterian lady’s nightmare: a man of surpassing vulgarity; coarse, charmless, a bully who “can’t take yes for an answer,” as Bob Dole said before he lost his wit somewhere on K Street. The preternaturally obnoxious Brooklynite Schumer, on the same hand, exists solely on television, where he is apparently the creation of a nasty antisemitic scriptwriter. Easily the most vicious enemy of the Bill of Rights in the entire Congress, Schumer is loathed by his colleagues, but then as a venerable New York statesman once told me, “It is impossible to succeed in New York City politics without such stridency that it makes you repugnant to ever)’body else.”
What has become of the promise of 1992, when Ross Perot and Jerry Brown and Pat Buchanan began to define a post-Cold War American populism that was hostile to centralized government, the Fortune 500, and managerial liberalism, and animated by a refreshing faith in town-meeting democracy, the liberty of ordinary people and small places, and an isolationist reluctance to make war upon foreigners? Brown won the mayoralty last year on an inspiring Oakland First! platform; Buchanan ought to be revving up for another run in 2000 (when was the last time the winner of the previous New Hampshire primary was not even included in public opinion polls?); but where—outside Minnesota and Governor-Elect Jesse “The Body” Ventura—are their reinforcements? On town councils and school boards, no doubt, which are being systematically stripped of any real power by bipartisan Reinventors of Government and Apostles of the New Paradigm and people who actually say “the next millennium” in conversation.
The two wings of the Incumbent Party have learned nothing from the sporadic voter revolts of the I990’s. Perot-Brown-Buchanan themes were absent from the TV and radio ads of candidates for federal office—and given our oversized congressional districts and such gargantuan states as California, the noisomely noisy airwaves are the successor to flesh-pressing and tub-thumping and the shaking of actual human hands. One lesson of 1998 is that live wires get snipped. The gruesome Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell and his National Republican Senatorial Committee withheld critical party funds from populist Washington Congresswoman Linda Smith in her loss to incumbent Patty Murray. What a shock: The mandarins of the Wall Street/Pentagon party prefer a Democratic cipher to a spunky woman who, at least on occasion, spoke harsh truths about the OOP’s betrayal of small business and Middle America. (A feminist campaign consultant told me over drinks that Murray was “totally clueless; the most stupid senator I ever worked with.”)
On the sunny side, what American heart was not gladdened by the strange and wonderful election of Jesse Ventura? Maine and Minnesota are now graced with independent governors; Paychex CEO Tom Golisano ran fairly well as an independent in the New York gubernatorial race. The Perotist vein remains rich, although to tap it, it helps to have a fortune or sculpted musculature. If only Arnold Schwarzenegger weren’t a Kempie and a foreigner to boot. Does anybody know Lou Ferrigno’s politics?
So another Election Day has come and gone, and it’s back to business for the Incumbent Party: sending deracinated military men and women hither and thither to fight the enemy of the week (and the weak); engorging leviathan to fund whatever programs our pollsters-in-chief judge critical to “soccer moms” (and any mom who lets her son play soccer instead of baseball is no American); and torching the Bill of Rights in a great sacrifice to our sacred wars on drugs, Internet porn, hate speech, and the other bugaboos of our leaders, most of whom were once pot-smoking, Penthouse reading, race-joke-telling teenagers.
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