Now that the election is over and all good and righteous citizens are either drowning in champagne or slitting their wrists, it's time to sit back, relax and spend a few minutes evaluating the piss-poor state of American politics.
A good place to start would be the North County, home of Legoland, where entrenched Republican congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham barely bothered to stop in to eat donuts with his constituents during his run for re-election. Cunningham laughed off the idea of debating his poorly financed opponents, not even taking the time to make up a "scheduling conflict" excuse.
A Dukester spokeswoman told reporters Cunningham wasn't into, you know, all the negativity that comes out in a debate. "Duke doesn't want to play that game," she said.
Instead, Cunningham made the usual rounds of Duke-friendly clubs and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from his buds in the defense industry. He spent some of the money on a few mailers, but mostly stockpiled his money, which is why Duke is a very popular guy in Washington.
Cunningham did deign to touch base with his constituents with a letter to the editor of the North County Times, assuring readers "my record speaks for itself." Responding to a variety of charges about his voting record, Cunningham wrote, "If my opponents accuse me of being too concerned about the men and women who serve so valiantly in the military, then I am guilty."
For all North County-ites know, Cunningham is being kept alive with feeding tubes in a comfortable Georgetown sanitarium, unable to contain his own drooling. But loyal Republican voters would still check the Dukester's name, knowing only that he talks tough and supports our president.
It is a scary thought to consider that Cunningham, who often appears poised to jump into a tank to fight off the Ruskies, basically has a seat for life, thanks to a comfortable majority of Republicans in North County. This must be particularly frightening to the non-Republicans of his district, the type of thought that can make you shiver in the wee hours, when you are sitting alone in the dark.
Night sweats almost certainly had something to do with the angry editorial about Cunningham penned for the Los Angeles Times by retired UCSD professor Chalmers Johnson-otherwise known as a "liberal pinhead," in the vernacular of Duke's supporters. Johnson was clearly frustrated with the idea that his representative in Congress for much of his natural life likely would be a former fighter pilot often called "hawkish." The piece was headlined, "My Congressman Stands for Money, Not for Me."
"Incumbency is so well institutionalized that elections generally don't mean much," Johnson grumbled, labeling his representative "a wholly paid-for tool of the military-industrial complex."
It's hard not to share Johnson's cynicism. On every level, the election system seems like a bad community theater play that goes on and on, with every part played by the sergeant of arms of the local Rotary Club.
The script rarely changes. The Republicans label Democrats as tax-and-spend liberals. The Democrats counter by calling Republicans tools of the rich corporations. Millions are spent on red, white and blue lawn signs and catchy red, white and blue bumper stickers. TV ads show shadowy pictures and vague newspaper headlines to proclaim the opponent a sleazeball.
Campaigns have always been about message and rhetoric, but years from now, teachers will point to the 2004 campaign to re-elect President Bush as a masterpiece of political craftsmanship. By any standard, Bush went into the campaign as the worst president of the last 100 years, a disaster in both foreign and domestic policy. You can't do much worse than sending soldiers to die in an unnecessary war.
Yet the balloons had barely dropped at the Democratic convention when John Kerry was already labeled weak on defense and a flip-flopper. The Republican minions even managed to turn Kerry's flawless war record into a negative, an amazing feat.
All high school debate geeks could learn a lesson from the president. Whenever experts would say something like, "You know, there really was no connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda," Bush would reply, "Freedom is on the march." If pressed, Bush would say, "That's a trick question" and refuse to answer it. When confronted with evidence he would smirk and decry the liberal media.
And that was good enough for millions of Americans, your friends and neighbors, who mindlessly check the boxes, confident that the president knows best and the Dukester is looking out for the little guy.
Anti-intellectualism rules the land. Smirks have replaced debate. Faith has fought off reason. People who wouldn't know a Sunni from a sundae are the real power brokers.
No one wants to hear "all that fancy talk." They vote Republican and complain abut the damn liberal media, not diverting a second of intellectual energy away from watching The Swan.
The system isn't working anymore. Too many people have suspended disbelief. They've turned off the switch and they're refusing to compute. Elections are done by rote, a ritual more than an evaluation of positions.
This is the spot in the column where the author usually offers some sort of solution, a positive thought to suggest that not all is lost. Maybe something like, "So let's all get out there and vote next year!"
But not this time. This is more a time of somber review, a time to crank up The White Stripes and contemplate life in the land of the Duke.
Write to MsBeak1@aol.com and editor@SD citybeat.com.