In the middle of the Great Northeastern Blackout I received a call from my old friend and nemesis, Leon Despair. Leon has long had a knack for calling at the worst possible times. For once his annoying gift for bad timing had failed him, thank goodness.
This time he had called when I was out eating smothered pork chops and collard greens, so I was spared having to endure his usual harangue in real time. This was a major relief, because I usually get suckered into arguing with his insanity, even though I know better.
Is there anything that makes you feel stupider than to find yourself arguing vehemently with a fool, or a drunk or somebody you didn’t even want to talk to in the first place?
Alas, I have voice mail, and Leon took full advantage. He was, as usual, full of big ideas.
Here’s the transcript of his message.
* * *
Hi, this is General Despair (he has taken to calling himself that, like some kind of Kentucky Colonel, but weirder). Pick up if you’re there. This is important.
Listen, Vest, as soon as we Americans are able to restore electricity to places like Baghdad, New York, Ohio, Basra, Tikrit and Detroit, we need to get on with the business of bringing Democracy to Iraq. Why wait until all twenty Saddams have been killed or captured? If Iraq is ever going to have the kind of government Louisiana and New Jersey enjoy, we’re all going to have to pitch in and help, the sooner the better.
Here’s my plan: let’s have the Iraqi people take a crash course in civics. Believe me, they’ll thank us for it.
Up close and personal, that’s the best approach. How are these people going to practice Democracy if they haven’t seen it in action? And where better to learn than by following our American example?
To teach them how Democracy works, we could start with a brief presentation on the presidential election of 2000, with special emphasis on Florida. This would drive home the point that “every vote counts” — at least until the Supreme Court orders people to stop counting them.
Then we could swing through Texas, where Democratic legislators have twice run off to hide in other states to keep Republicans from redistricting them out of existence. This way minority parties in Iraq could learn to go hide in Iran or Kuwait when the majority tries to strong-arm them. Is there a better illustration of the glories of a two-party system than Texas?
When people see that they could be governed by roach exterminators instead of dictators, it will expand their horizons. Ain’t that right? Hello? Pick up if you’re there!
Lone Star politicians could also give them a few pointers on how to turn out the dead vote in close elections.
In New York they could observe public officials gunned down in government buildings, an important component of modern Democracy. Alabama’s Judge Roy Moore could teach their judges the vital art of defying higher court orders. Alaska could help out the women of Iraq by showing officials how to appoint their daughters to empty senate seats. In Montana the virtues of describing one’s elected self as “proud to be a lapdog of industry” could be inculcated.
Then, lest our Iraqi friends become confused or discouraged, we could show them our piece de resistance: California. Where else could the Austrian son of a Nazi party member and the Greek ex-wife of a gay Republican duke it out for the celebrity vote?
Ah, California, where the future repeats itself, where Dylan’s new movie “Masked and Anonymous” is the only voter’s guide anyone really needs.
Yes, California, where Ralph Nader (who has probably done more positive good things for more Americans than any other living figure) has to get hit with a pie to get on the nightly news. (No need to tell us what he said, just show him cleaning pie off his suit.)
Finally they could take a look at the national scene. Washington could show them how democracies arrest people without warrants and hold them incommunicado, indefinitely. From a national perspective, they could learn what happens to nuns who protest against the reign of official terror. (It’s vital for people in a Democracy to know that the government can put them in prison for years for spilling their own blood trying to stop nuclear war.) They can study how to come down hard on people who offer themselves as human shields to save the lives of innocent civilians. (It’s important for people in a Democracy to know that you can be fined $10,000 for trying to keep a little boy’s arms from being blown off.)
Hide-bound Iraqi traditionalists could watch our presidential nominating process and learn how to pass themselves off as “progressives.” They could learn valuable lessons by simply watching our run-of-the-mill domestic conservatives with one or two mildly progressive ideas maneuver to get themselves accused of dragging the whole process “leftward.”
If our Iraqi friends are unable to absorb all these lessons because seeing the mutilated bodies of Saddam’s sons left them in a state of shock, we could emphasize how important such images are to establishing and maintaining Democracy.
Instead of looking at the ghastly fates of Uday and Husay, we could invite them to meditate upon the cracked, severed head of Ted Williams. Then they would surely understand the glories of our way of life and appreciate what we’re trying to do for them.
Hey, have a nice day — unless you’ve made other plans.
* * *
Click — and he was gone. Good thing I saved his message, because hearing it caused me to forget whatever I was going to write about today.
DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, just released a scorching new CD, Way Down Here.
He can be reached at: email@example.com
Visit his website at http://www.rebelangel.com