The Zombie Shuffle

Four years ago I advocated here that we vote for Ralph Nader. I voted Nader and would do so again, if supporting the most forthright and just plain rightcandidate was all that mattered at our point in history. But the reality is that Ralph has more likelihood of being voted president of the Corvair Club than he does of ever leading the nation he's served so well. It will take a long, hard-won enlightenment before such a day comes.

Yes, the ship of state needs a drastic overhaul to secure it from the corporate rats gnawing the rigging and befouling the larder. But before we start rearranging the bulkheads, we desperately need to first get rid of the guy who is knocking holes in the hull. And, yo-ho matey, the only one with a chance of ousting Bush is John Kerry.

Nader was very much wrong four years ago when he insisted there was no difference between Bush and Gore. The Bush wrecking crew has undone much of Ralph's lifetime of accomplishment—gutting environmental regulations, workplace safety rules, etc.—and if given another term they may well preside over the death of the United States as we've known and loved it.

Oh, we'll zombie-shuffle along, but the soul that lit this nation will be under so much spiritual ash that it may never rekindle. You know the image the world saw of the Ubu-like, hooded, electrode-wired Abu Ghraib victim? That ain't the Statue of Liberty, kids. And if you do your reading, you'll learn it's not so isolated, that prisoners in our custody have been beaten to death, that even one of our own soldiers masquerading as a detainee in a Guantanamo training exercise was beaten nearly to death, and that a policy to render the Geneva Conventions “quaint” was formulated in the White House.

Our troops aren't monsters, but war is monstrous. That's why it's supposed to be a last resort. Instead, as every goddamned bit of news confirms, Bush and Co. rushed into Iraq without cause, and with a zealot's recklessness for the realities of winning it. Which puts our troops in an untenable position, trying to bring order to a looted nation gutted of its infrastructure and civil service, fighting “insurgents” who are regarded as freedom fighters by their neighbors, who—because we've occupied their nation—see us as occupiers. Christ, even Pat Robertson tried to tell Bush it was going to be a mess.

Would Jesus have gone to war with Iraq? Does Bush have some special Bible, where Jesus preached delivering a preemptive shiv to the carotid if you worried that someone might someday smite your cheek?

That's the skewed equation of Iraq, where we warred upon a people on the trumped-up possibility that their malfunctioning, U.S.-installed dictator (whose greatest atrocities were done under the approving eye of the Reagan administration) might eventually pose a threat to us. Are our innocent victims worth that much more than theirs? And does killing innocents make sense in a “war on terror” where injustice only swells the enemy's ranks?

We've woken up in Bizzaro World, where the fractured “democracy” we're creating there is headed by a former CIA asset who has shut newspapers, expelled news networks and banned hospitals from releasing figures on the number of missile-torn civilians filling their beds. In Bizzaro World, Donald Rumsfeld thinks an election that excludes a quarter of the population is still an election.

We could fill this issue with the missteps Bush took in Iraq, and equal ink could be shed on every other field this administration has trampled upon. President Bush gripes about Kerry's “litany of complaints,” but that doesn't make the complaints any less true. While the terrorist threat was used to broach our civil rights with the Patriot Act, our ports are unprotected and our chemical plants unguarded, because Bush sided with industry instead of the public interest.

They've rolled back hundreds of environmental regulations, earning the worst marks ever from green organizations. Nobel Prize winners and thousands of other prominent scientists have objected to the administration's distortion and suppression of science. School districts are going broke trying to fulfill the underfunded mandates of “No Child Left Behind.” We have the highest deficit in history, and the highest trade deficit as well. Health and insurance costs are soaring. The oilman's energy policy has resulted in record gas and heating oil prices, and record profits for his contributors. Jobs are being shipped overseas.

And given the rate at which only the rich are becoming richer, the “ownership society” may soon consist of us being owned—DNA and all—by some corporation.

Speaking against Kerry's plan to restore taxes on the rich to their pre-Bush levels, Bush is making the strangest argument you've ever heard from a conservative: “When you hear them say tax the rich, be careful. The rich hire lawyers and accountants for a reason, because they don't want to pay. And you get stuck with the tab.”

He's said this in several speeches, and the literal message is that the rich—of whom he is one and whose interests he unabashedly serves—don't pay their fair share, never will, and that's just the way it is, and if he thought it should be any different then maybe the three branches of government his party controls would do something about it, instead of giving the rich even more breaks on the taxes they aren't paying. (The Republican-run Congress just voted in another $137 billion in tax cuts and handouts to America's largest corporations.) Are we a republic or a fiefdom?

The news shows are telling us thatAmericans vote their feelings. So it's like picking which animal you like best. Nader's a raccoon: fascinating, elusive, but you worry he'll get into your garbage. Kerry's a giraffe: watch him earnestly chew leaves for five minutes and you've seen all you're gonna see. But Bush? He's the rascally little chimp. He's spoiled from all the attention and unearned treats he's been given; he flung monkey poo all over the house; he pet the cat to death, yet you want to keep him around to see what antics he'll get up to next.

“We're at war with Belgium? How about that!”

Lead is a vegetable? Who knew?”

“You've jump-started the Rapture? You go, Little Bonzo!”

There was one question in the final debate where Bush's answer seemed genuinely passionate and direct, when he was explaining how his faith directs him. You could feel the glow radiating from him as he explained, “Prayer and religion sustain me.”

This guy is saved, and good for him, though it hasn't proved good for the nation. You get the impression Bush is one of those guys who's afraid that if he ever loosens his rigid grip on his beliefs he might plunge back into his old, dissolute life. Lincoln prayed too, but he also looked at reality, weighed other views and listened to his generals. Bush gives the impression that, for him, facts are merely gnats flitting through the shining light he's receiving from on high.

I think Bush means well. He doesn't sit there gloating, rubbing his hands in glee as he hands our future generations to corporations. But Mr. Bush, he just doesn't think so good. So how could he know that when God talks to him, it's really Karl Rove in his earpiece?

In his America, the Bible mixes with the mythic old west, where the sink-or-swim, groceries-or-medication challenges we're faced with are the proving ground for whether your character is worthy of God's eternal life or not. You don't want government coddling to get in the way of that, do you? If you're broke and struggling, it's because you were meant to struggle. If you're rich and awash in no-bid contracts, it's because righteousness is rewarded.

But for those of us who think government can work for the common good, and with better intentions than Monsanto, Squibb, Enron and Halliburton; for those of us who want that government to stay the hell out of our beds and bookstores; for those of us who think this planet is heaven enough and want to preserve it and our place on it; for those of us who like the French, and the Germans, the Canadians, the Mexicans and most other peoples of the world who opposed Bush's war; for those of us who know that torture, deceit and unprovoked war are not the values Americans have defended for 228 years—we have work to do in these next few days.

We have to do all we can to speak to our sundered friends, relatives and acquaintances about what's at stake here, and what it really means to be an American. The media won't do it. Ad campaigns won't do it. But if each of us who cares deeply about this election can each reach out and change just one vote, that tips the election right there.

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