Advice from a Polemicist

by BEN TRIPP

I get an awful lot of mail from people looking for free advice. I have no beef with this, of course, except the ‘free’ part; giving advice comes naturally to a man accustomed to lead and be followed such as myself. Just the other day I was leading and there were people following me, and I was only going to the dry cleaner to complain about some shirt buttons he used to crack walnuts. I think my followers were from the Justice Department. They sure wanted to ask me some questions. But sometimes I get worn out from answering the same questions and dispensing the same advice, like a doctor in the middle of a cholera epidemic who finds himself longing for just one case of tonsillitis to break up the monotony. So, like that doctor, only without the sphygmomanometer peeking coyly out of my coat pocket, I’m going to answer the question I’m most often asked. If you find your question isn’t answered here, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll do my best to clear things up. If the problem is a sudden onset of watery diarrhea, vomiting, and cramps, you probably have cholera. Swing by the doctor’s office and for Christ’s sake keep away from me.

While I do get requests for advice on sex, dating, and high altitude strudel recipes, people most want to know how to make their voices heard in today’s political environment. Time and time again I hear the same complaint: “attempting to influence the course of national events these days is like making a phone call to Ecuador in a room full of howler monkeys with diesel-powered trombones”. Sometimes it’s proboscis monkeys or macaques, but the theme is always the same. Why ask me? After all, I’m not a primatologist. But people read my excoriating polemics, and they figure a guy who can come within twenty feet of an excoriating polemic without his eyebrows get blown clean off, that guy can help me. The problem is, most persons think an excoriating polemic is a type of leopard that can breathe fire on its enemies. Here then is my advice on what you, the average human citizen, can do to influence American Politics.

The most obvious thing, which is to vote every dozen years or so, ought to go without saying. And often does. But I don’t want to be accused of delivering Pat Advice; I don’t even know him. So here’s the best way to vote: During An Election. If you vote six months after an election, it doesn’t improve your candidate’s chances, unless you vote Republican, in which case they will either back-date your vote, or apply it to the next election. Even voting early won’t help, because the voting machines aren’t generally functional until the last half-hour before the police shut down the polling places. Try to show up on time, and bring your passport. Not only is this proof of your identity, but if the election doesn’t go your way you can leave the country without even going home.

In theory (which is about the end of it) every eligible voter is entitled to make his or her voice heard when there’s an election. But elections mostly determine who’s going to misrepresent you in the government. Once they’re in office, how do you let your Erected Replesentatives know what you want them to do? Other than if you live in the same building, in which case you can mention it pretty much any time. And how do citizens who are not eligible to vote such as Democrats, black folk, and old Jews in Florida make their opinions known? After all, they may not be allowed to vote, but they’re still American Citizens (as of this writing) and have a right to be ignored just like normal people. Again, the answer is so simple even a conservative could understand it. Call your Representatives on the telephone. Write them letters. Send them Emails, faxes, and telegrams, or a flaming arrow with a note tied to it. If you choose this option, be sure to fire the arrow through an open window so it whacks into the desk right in front of them, transfixing the very piece of legislation you oppose- this looks really cool, and it sends an unambiguous message (assuming the note doesn’t catch fire before they read it).

Always remember to be concise, polite, succinct, courteous, brief, and civil when contacting your Elected R., as nobody likes to get angry or threatening communications, and these people can get you hunted down by the FBI. They have very short attention spans, and in most cases won’t actually read your mail, which might contain anthrax, but will instead guess at its contents. In case they do read your epistle (a rude word for letter) try to avoid certain catchphrases that can cause you problems the next time you step out of your house, like “I make letter bombs” or “Allah embraces all who die in His name while slaughtering the infidels”. Remember: terse, mannerly, pithy, genteel, breviloquent, and decorous wins the race. Also try to avoid repeating yourself.

Of course it’s one thing to influence the opinions of your E. Representative, and quite another thing to hang from alligator clips by the loose skin at the end of- no, it’s no good. I got distracted. Right across the street from me is this team of nihilist German acrobats doing some kind of performance piece. . . It’s amazing I get anything accomplished, yesterday the contortionists were imitating lobsters in Uncle Sam costumes and one of them got a cramp while his head was tucked under his pelvis, which shut down the whole block. Nobody even knows what they’re saying. The point is, it’s one thing to influence Government Officials, another thing to influence your Fellow Citizens. If you can generate popular interest in your opinions and concerns, which is unlikely, other people may add their voices to yours, and when you have several voices, you could even get a choir going and do “We Are The World”, which goes over really well. Not everybody is familiar with the issues, and not everybody knows what’s going on. In fact nobody does. So if you have the foggiest idea about anything, you should sound off. This is also a simple matter, particularly if you own a large media conglomerate or a string of newspapers, or you have your own show on cable TV. Otherwise, maybe you could join a troupe of German acrobats. They seem to have something to say, and I’m sure you could articulate it better than them, not having the heavy accent.

An extension of the Public Forum (which is the medical name for that loose skin I mentioned before) is Grassroots Organizing. This is when a concerned citizen or choir group decides to build support for or against an issue by getting people’s lawns together. In this manner citizens’ groups can have an enormous impact on matters of public policy, or none at all. This is what makes it so exciting. You can never tell how things will come out. Grassroots Organizers will distribute leaflets, send mass mailings, and sponsor public events by which their viewpoint can be distorted by the media, especially when you throw a few bricks through some windows and then the pigs come down on you, if it bleeds it leads, man, because that’s what it’s about, it’s the Man trying to silence dissent but the people won’t be silenced, this is a tidal wave that is going to turn this whole country around! Hey, where’s my lawn?

Finally, and certainly last on this list, if you really want to make a difference, run for Public Office yourself. After all, if somebody who is passionate about the issues at stake in our country today runs for office and gets elected, it would be a miracle. Once you’re in a position of public trust, you can start enacting the changes you want to see happen, and you get free parking. In order to get on a ballot (an elusive type of butterfly) you merely have to gather enough signatures to qualify. You can even write them yourself out of the phone book. Try to change your handwriting from one signature to the next, and switch pens. Then you need about a hundred million dollars (five thousand Euros), which can be gotten from very wealthy corporate sources by changing your political views and compromising on the issues. Assuming your opponent has less money than you, you are certain to be elected! But don’t all of a sudden revert to your old viewpoints, or you will be assassinated or even mocked. Once in office, it’s best to mention some of your ideas about transforming American Politics in a very timid way, and drop the subject if anybody notices. Nobody likes a bossy-pants. Over time, you’ll find the System is in fact working for you, and you’re very comfortable, which must mean that the System Works! If other people feel disenfranchised, it’s just because they’re unwilling to participate, or worse yet, colored.

I hope this summary of the issue I’m most often asked about has helped to address some of your stupid concerns. If you follow my advice and really get involved, you will find that you’re not the voiceless, frustrated nobody you were before. Instead you will be a voiceless frustrated nobody on the Justice Department’s hit list, and when they take you to their special interview room, I guarantee you will find your voice. It will sound like Donald Duck’s voice. As for myself, I think I have cholera, so you Feds better back off or you might catch it too: cholera, like democracy, spreads only through direct contact.

BEN TRIPP is a screenwriter. He can be reached at: credel@earthlink.net ?2002 by BEN TRIPP

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