Not hope, not change, but more of the same
The first time I voted was in the 2000 election. I was registered Libertarian back then, not out of any particular political conviction but because they were the party who sent out the least amount of junk mail by volume. In point of fact, I voted for Al Gore. (As did the majority of Americans.)
It was unfathomable to me, back then, that George W. Bush could get elected. The man was a shambling idiot, a permanent second-stringer, a hanger-on with the grin of a retarded monkey whose greatest ambition was simply to be liked by his daddy’s drinking buddies. He reminded me of the kind of kid who failed the high school football tryouts and settled for being the locker room towel boy instead, endlessly trying to ingratiate himself with the players and high-fiving them as they came off the field dripping with glory he would never achieve for himself. I imagined him lying in his narrow bed at night, all the lights off, masturbating into a gym sock stolen from the quarterback’s locker and crying softly to himself in shame. “All those older guys, they said he was mean and cruel,” as Lou Reed sang in “Coney Island Baby”, “but you know, I wanted to play football for the coach.”
But get elected he did, and for me the greatest betrayal wasn’t that he stole the election (which he did), but that enough Americans had voted for him that stealing the election was even possible in the first place. It suggested something terrifying about my country.
Before September 11th, Dubya was just a moron who handled things like international diplomacy with the same slick facility that he displayed with the English language. It was like somebody had stolen Roy Clark, shitkicker grin and all, off the set of Hee Haw and put him up in the White House.
But after September 11th, he became a goddamn demon: wiping his ass with the Bill of Rights, embroiling America in two wars of which the best you could say was that one was marginally justifiable; creating a free-for-all climate on Wall Street that culminated in the worst recession since the Great Depression. George W. Bush spent eight years buttfucking American democracy, and the whole time he had that stupid smirk on his face, as if he couldn’t believe he’d actually gotten his narrow ass in the driver’s seat, as if he was pulling one giant boner on the entire nation. Which he was.
Bush was my generation’s Nixon, a symbol of everything stupid and cruel and corrupt in the spiritus Americanus, a reason to involve oneself in the political process. Compared to him, the worst transgressions of Bubba Clinton seemed like minor peccadillos at best. The fact that we not only allowed him to steal the election in 2000 but voted the ignorant bullying little shitrag back into the White House in 2004 made me despair for the future of my country, if not the human race in general.
So when Barack Obama came along in 2008, he looked like the reincarnation of Jack Kennedy: a young, charismatic, progressive leader with impeccable credentials and the ability to clear away the cobwebs of the dark Bush years and lead America somewhere — anywhere — brighter. People had been muttering about a presidential bid ever since his rousing speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. His speech was the only memorable thing about it, in fact; much more memorable than the actual Democratic candidate, John Kerry, who had all the dynamic political and personal charisma of Michael Dukakis on Dramamine. It was as if the Democrats knew they were going to lose again...but wanted America to know they had somebody up their sleeve.
I clearly remember Election Night, 2008. I was drinking with my friends at a bar here in Vegas called the Freakin’ Frog, upstairs in the Frog’s Whiskey Attic, a private area with the largest selection of whiskey west of the Mississippi. We watched CNN on a projection screen. When they declared Obama the winner, we cheered. When he got up and made his acceptance speech — when he answered the hopes of poor old Sam Cooke, and said “It’s been a long time coming, but a change has finally come” — I cried, because I believed the night was finally over.
But it wasn’t. Things got bad, and things got worse; I guess you know the tune. Most of it wasn’t Obama’s fault at all, of course. He was inheriting a massive shit sandwich from Bush, who continued the pattern of his entire miserable life and skipped town before the bill came due, fucking off to Dallas to write his memoirs in crayon on the Laura Ashley wallpaper of his playroom. Obama wiped Dubya’s ass as best he could, and did a pretty fair job in a lot of areas, despite having a Congress full of mean-ass Republican jackals snarling and leaping for his throat every time he stepped foot in the Capitol Building.
The problem with Obama is not that he’s done a shitty job, but that he was sold to us — and by us, I mean the Left — under false pretenses. His healthcare reforms, while admirable, are a pittance compared to the nationalized health care systems in place in every other nation in the developed world. As a military leader, he’s got far more hawk DNA in him than dove, as his failure to close Guantanamo and unapologetic support for internal national surveillance and wiretapping programs and assassination of American nationals clearly shows. As a Democrat, he’s far more in the Lyndon Johnson mold than the Kennedy one.
In his defense, Obama never really lied to us about who he was. We simply saw what we wanted to see. We’d developed intense night vision after eight years of Georgie The Fuckhead, and we were blinded even by Obama’s relatively dim wattage, and the magic pixie dust his image consultants had rubbed into our eyes. He was glamorous in the archaic sense, a fantastic vision that hid the real truth from us: that for all the talk of Hope and Change, Obama’s America was better than what came before only because what came before was such a goddamned atrocity.
Or maybe I’m being too hard on the man. Maybe he has simply been hamstrung by his Congress. Maybe he’s discovered too late that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions; that for every good deed an American president does, he has to perform ten terrible ones. Maybe that’s just the way it works.
But whatever the case, the fact is that any passion I felt for politics during Bush’s reign of terror evaporated, slowly but surely, over the last four years. I’m tired of disappointment, tired of business as usual, resigned to the fact that barring some great catastrophe, nothing will change any time soon in American politics.
I despise Romney, of course, because he’s a religious nut and a sneering corporate capitalist who probably, in his head, sees his election as president as a sort of shareholder’s boardroom coup. He doesn’t even bother to hide his hatred of and contempt for the poor, and he wants to roll back the rights of everybody but rich white straight guys a good solid hundred years. He’s a fucking pig, another shitheaded daddy’s boy who seems to genuinely not understand why he even has to explain himself or go through the tedious process of actually being elected before he gets to be president.
But I just don’t care. I’m not stupid enough to believe that there’s no difference between Romney and Obama, but I just can’t seem to make myself get all worked up about it. Voting early for Obama, which I did this week, felt more like making sure you’ve locked your front door before leaving the house: a good, right and prudent thing to do, certainly, but not a righteous act.
For me, Obama is the lesser of two evils — far lesser, certainly, and I still hold out hope that in his second term he finally starts kicking down doors and whipping the asses of the people who deserve it. But that hope is very abstract these days. I feel it, but I don’t, y’know, feel it. I don’t expect the extreme renditions to end, Guantanamo to close, the end to the madness of the war on terrorism or the construction of a true socialized health care system.
These are things I want, but maybe not things Obama wants, and that’s fine. He’s got my vote, but he no longer has my faith.
And who knows? Maybe four years from now the Republicans will dig up some truly twisted Quasimodo motherfucker and I can get my rage on again; or maybe the Democrats will finally find their balls and put a true radical at the podium. But until then, whichever horse wins the race today, he ain’t my horse.
Illustration by Gary Mar