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It's a little known fact that neck cricks are a common occupational hazard among your politicking class right up there with wrist sprains, smile cramps, and cologne burn. Politicians suffer neck cricks because, as incongruous as it seems, American politics is damn near eaten up with prayer, so their heads are always bobbing down and up, down and up.
Even Congress begins its daily sessions with a pious bowing of every corrupt head in the chamber this is not something you'll find normal prostitutes doing. On the campaign trail, too, every public event, whether Democratic or Republican, is kicked off by hauling some minister, rabbi, priest, or whatever to the podium, from whence the cleric beseeches the Almighty to side with the assembled partisans in their righteous cause and smite the infidels of the other party. As one who often speaks at political events and, I confess, as one who once was a practicing politician myself (you didn't get a virgin here) I've heard hundreds of these prayerful entreaties. Most are predictable, but every now and then you get a prayer that makes a statement.
My favorite came at a bipartisan meet-the-candidates breakfast in 1990. The head table was stocked with twenty or so buffed-and-grinning aspirants for state legislator, county constable, hide inspector, and whatnot. The collective IQ of the whole bunch wouldn't have outgunned a passel of possums, and none of the candidates had sparked even a flicker of interest, much less enthusiasm, among the yawning public. Nonetheless, about a hundred of their political diehards and kin were in attendance, enjoyingthe grits and gravy, if not the lackluster campaign.
At 7:30 on the dot, the preacher was called forth. He was a big and imposing man who possessed particularly powerful pipes. He gripped the lectern as the crowd instinctively hushed and bowed. Before uttering a word, the preacher looked deliberately down the line of candidates to his right, then turned and gazed upon those to his left, after which he closed his eyes unusually tight, not so much in prayer, but as though he hoped to block out the sight he'd just taken in. Lifting his face to the heavens, he thrust his arms wide and cried in a booming voice that clearly was seeking deliverance: "Oh, God!" As his plea rumbled across the room, he softly said, "Amen" and sat down.
As we cast our eyes on today's political process, most Americans would say to the preacher, "My sentiments exactly." Ask people anywhere in the country what they think about the Democratic-Republican choice they were offered in the presidential election and they'll roll their eyes and say, "Oh, God." What about the system itself, with both parties butt deep in the muck and mire of corrupt campaign funds: "Oh, God," they moan, shaking their head. How about your own Congress critter-does he or she represent you? "Oh, God no!" Would you want your kid getting involved in politics? "OH, GOD!!"
What a shame that our nation's two-party leadership is so corrupted and such an embarrassment these days, for America really could have used an honest pulse-taking before plunging blindly into the relentlessly ballyhooed millennial election. All hoopla aside, the turning of a century, much less a millennium, is a significant marker, an attention-focusing opportunity to have a thorough public conversation maybe even a bit of national contemplation about our people's progress and our national direction. I realize I'm teetering on the brink of squishy idealism here, but golly Pollyanna, if our political system was not totally fucked, this 2000 election could have been a time when the parties, the candidates, and the media all came out to us plebeians, actually listening to the reality of regular people's situations, debating a plethora of unconventional (i.e., noncorporate) ideas, and generally conducting a kind of coast-to-coast political Chautauqua not quite a plebiscite, but at least a "whaddaya think" consultation on charting America's twenty-first-century course.
There's plenty to discuss. For starters, enough already with the official pretension that ours is one big fat-and-happy populace whose only real problem in today's "great economy" is deciding whether to stick with the Ford Explorer or move up to the newer and bigger Excursion. Reality check: Sticker price on that Excursion tops $50,000 more than the yearly income of eight out of ten American families. This real-world majority is fortunate if they can afford a used Escort, for the same 80 percent of the people have seen their incomes go flat or go down during the past decade, even as they have been ceaselessly bombarded with assertions that America is wallowing in luxury. For these families, middle-class opportunities are being shut off, and their political voice has been cut off-in both cases by an ascendant corporate/investor elite that now rules supreme, essentially owning the economy, the government, the media ... and, sadly, the 2000 elections.
So, we did not get the kitchen-table consultation America needs and deserves, nor did the Powers That Be so much as get their feathers ruffled with any bothersome talk by either of the Big Two parties about returning to the gut-level values that working people hold dear: economic fairness, social justice, and equal opportunity for all. Instead, 2000 was like '98, '96, '94, and '92 another money-soaked, corporate-driven, issue-avoiding, made-for-television snoozer, completely unconnected to real life.
THIS IS CHOICE!
OK, presidential elections have not been about big ideas, contrasting philosophies, or even about people for several cycles now (going back at least to LBJ v. Goldwater thirty-six years ago), but this one was a particularly surreal space odyssey. In the Democratic primary, you had the unbridled excitement of a Bill Bradley-Al Gore matchup two policy-wonkish, big-money corporatists who couldn't fire up grassroots America if we let them use flamethrowers...