By Robert Silvey
Because I like to think well of my countrymen, I prefer to believe that George Bush got into the White House by fooling them about his real intentions. If only they had known, if only they had understood a little more about his competence and his worldview and his intended policies, they would never have given him enough votes to slide by in 2000, and certainly not enough votes to win outright in 2004.
But many Americans didn’t know. Three years ago, when I was canvassing for John Kerry in the conservative western suburbs of St Louis, one angry woman stood on the steps of her mobile home and told me that she was voting for Bush because Teresa Kerry planned to force all states to make gay marriage legal. She knew it was true because she had read it in four different places on the internets, and Teresa had enough money that she would have been able to get if off the internets if it weren’t true. We did not have a productive conversation. Despite my best efforts, in that trailer park and elsewhere, Bush won the 11 electoral votes of Missouri.
But times change. Since 2004, the drip, drip, drip of information has opened many an eye to the administration’s mendacity and incompetence, and a few big-picture events have broken through the media camouflage protecting Bush. The abandonment of New Orleans, increasing chaos in Iraq, and now the unfair release of a criminal from prison because he is the president’s friendâ€”each of these stories has awakened a few more oblivious voters from their slumber, and if Bush were running for office today, he would not find enough friends in Missouri to host a barbecue at any trailer park in the state.
Well, perhaps I exaggerate. But not by much. All you’ve got to do is consult the internets. I ran across some really interesting information about the state of Missouri voters’ minds in 2007 at an unlikely website called Lake Expo Online, which exists mostly to carry ads for harmonicas and fishing boats and clothing-challenged boat parties around Lake of the Ozarks, in the deeply conservative south-central part of the state. Steve Thomas, a very good writer who describes himself as a loyal, lifelong Republican, has reached the end of his rope, and he tells the story of his disillusionment in a column titled “The way it is: Typewriters hurled over Scooter Libby fiasco.” Loyal no more. “When the New Orleans levees gave way,” he writes,
I didnâ€™t want anything more to do with the Republicans. So I declared myself an Independent and have been so since. It was hard for me to walk away from a party that had been my political home since my youth.
Now Bush has commuted the jail sentence of former aide Scooter Libby.â€¦
Libby should have gone to jail, period. He was found guilty, sentenced by a judge and his bid to put off his jail time during appeals was rejected by a panel of judges.â€¦
Unless all men are equal before the bar of justice, no man is equal before the bar of justice. The commutation of Libbyâ€™s sentence undermines the faith of the American people in the system of justice, underscoring a growing perception that this nation is increasingly unequal, that there is not one American dream but instead many American nightmares, that we are no longer a nation where competition and compassion can coexist in a unique if sometimes uncomfortable fashion.
Instead we are faced with some ugly questions and answers.
Thomas goes on to pose some tough ones about Iraq, the military, trade policies, the working poor, and the fairness of the legal system. And he quotes Theodore White on the idealistic myth that has bound Americans together: “that all men are equal before the law and protected by it; and that no matter how the faith may be betrayed elsewhere, at one particular pointâ€”the Presidencyâ€”justice will done beyond prejudice, beyond rancor, beyond the possibility of a fix.” No more. That myth is kaput.
Thomas also quotes Hunter Thompson, who considered seriously, on a similar occasionâ€”when he heard that Gerald Ford had pardoned Richard Nixonâ€”that he should fling his typewriter through the nearest politician’s front window and “flush the bugger out with an act of lunatic violence then soak him down with mace and run him naked down Main Street in Aspen with a bell around his neck and black lumps all over his body from the jolts of a high powered ‘Ball Buster’ cattle prod.” Hunter Thompson reconsidered, and though Thomas is tempted too as he checks the heft of his old Selectric, he thinks a lot of his neighbors around Lake of the Ozarks, even the politicians, might agree with him:
Mob bosses will admire Bushâ€™s loyalty to a closed-mouth soldier and petty criminals may well want to do better than small crime because theyâ€™ll realize that big crime pays big dividends.
Pass a bad check and go to jail. Attempt to subvert the justice system and never see the inside of a cell. Thanks a lot, George Bush.
Yet a small part of me wonâ€™t give up on our country. I think it can be brought into a better future with a healthy application of more democracy via the ballot box. I donâ€™t know who will get my vote in the future, but I wonâ€™t surrender to the anger and cynicism that grip me right now.
Having said that, I will confess that I plan on cleaning my old Selectric. I want to rid it of the dust and grime acquired by sitting unused on a shelf. That way I can be prepared for whatever else may come because I cannot, in good conscience, hurl a dirty typewriter.
It’s all about fairness. If people feel the government is cheating them, or treating other people better, they don’t like it. That’s as true in Missouri as it is in Massachusetts, and Bush’s Republican Party is on the wrong side of the equation. It’s also true in Virginia, as Tim Craig and Jennifer Agiesta write in the Washington Post today. The Old Dominion, which has not supported a Democrat for President since 1964, is now ready to do just that by a margin of 40 to 33 percent. They add: “When asked to name the worst president since 1960, 46 percent of the state’s independents cited Bush. No other president was mentioned by more than 15 percent of independents,” and the president’s disapproval carries over to the GOP in general.
This erosion of Bushophilia in formerly red states has been going on for some time. (Last year, SurveyUSA showed that Bush had a net positive approval rating only in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Oklahoma.) That’s why so many Republican incumbents lost in the 2006 congressional races, and that’s why Harry Reid is beginning to think the Senate may now be ready to pass a bill to force withdrawal from Iraq. Drip, drip, drip. Perhaps they will even be ready to override a veto. Carl Hulse and Jeff Zeleny report in the New York Times:
In the first round of debates about the war, there was Democratic anxiety about appearing unsupportive of the troops, and Mr. Reid sought to keep a tighter rein on his colleagues who were pushing for the strongest antiwar legislation. But in the shifting environment, Democrats are newly emboldened.
Mr. Reid said he now saw ending the war as a moral duty, and even if the Senate again falls short, he said, he would turn again and again to Iraq until either the president relents or enough Republicans join Democrats to overrule Mr. Bush.
â€œI think that each time these people vote to continue whatâ€™s going on in Iraq it is a bad, bad move for them and a worse move for our country,â€ Mr. Reid said.
When the voters in Lake of the Ozarks are mad enough to hurl their typewriters, those Republican senators may decide it’s time to commence some real deep soul-searching. Let’s hope so. We could use a little more fairness in the US of A, and the threat of a ballot-box revolution may turn out to be even more powerful than a flying typewriter.
[Cross-posted at Rubicon]