The cynical Alabama populist Governor George Wallace used to scoff that there wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties. Thank God that manic cracker spent the bleak winter of 2004 in an otherworldly realm. For today there isn’t a plug nickel’s worth of difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. The parties of Jefferson and Lincoln have clearcut the redwood forests, drained the gulfstream waters, leveled the purple mountains and scalped the amber waves of grain only to come up with George W. Bush and John F. Kerry: Skull and Bones-dum versus Skull and Bones-dee.
God bless our meritocracy!
What a marvelous system we have in freedom’s land. The Democrats, barely six weeks into the primary season, have disposed of the troublesomely frank Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and settled upon a presidential candidate who, but for his cadaverous countenance, might have skulked right out of the Bushes. Senator Kerry is a rich and haughty boarding-school boy, prolonged exposure to whom could turn the doughiest Tory into a raging Spartacist. At Yale he was tapped for Skull and Bones, the creepily macabre secret society whose possessions reportedly include the skull of the Apache chief Geronimo, stolen by President Bush’s grandfather, Prescott Bush, in a bit of youthful deviltry. Despite Kerry’s recent tergiversations, he was in favor of the U.S. war upon Iraq. A freespending statist, he is profligate with what only the most hopeless naifs still refer to as “the taxpayers’ money.”
The above description, of course, applies equally to the incumbent president. Lop six inches off Kerry’s chin and a dozen points off his IQ and you’ve got President Bush II. Well, yes, there are niggling differences. Bush was a prep-school cheerleader and Kerry a decorated Vietnam veteran, but then Republicans have pretty much cornered the market on chickenhawks. To his credit, Bush married the literate Laura while Kerry dumped his first wife, a chronically depressed heiress, and traded up for Mrs. Croesus, the ketchup widow Teresa, who hit the jackpot when poor Senator Heinz splurted up to that great condiment table in the sky.
So what is the thickskulled boneweary voter to do?
As an old-fashioned decentralist antiwar patriot, my dream ticket would consist of Gore Vidal and Texas Congressman Ron Paul, noble lions of the Old Republic, of the America before MTV and WMD and ABC and all those acronyms buried my sweet USA, but they aren’t going to be on the ballot. Ralph Nader is. And if Nader runs the antiwar, anti-corporate, pro-Middle America campaign he has previewed, we might finally hear the welcome echoes of the long lost William Jennings Bryan.
Funny, isn’t it, that Bryan, the most popular and imaginatively radical major-party candidate of the post-Civil War Era–a populist so esteemed that he overcame the opposition of Wall Street to thrice serve as the Democratic candidate for president–has no heirs, no legatees, no annual dinners named after him? He exists for us only in the slanderous portrayal of him in that silly collection of cliches, INHERIT THE WIND.
Bryan, the Great Commoner, the windbag with a heart, tribune of the farmer and honest toiler, was a sort of anti-Kerry. Isn’t one reason suburban Democrats nominate high-born stiffs like Kerry so that they can feel superior to white Southerners, born-agains, working-class Catholics, and the other gun-owning, church-going, war-hating homefolks who used to find a home in the Democratic Party of Bryan?
WJB called, in the mellifluous tones of his Plains, for a Jeffersonian dispersion of power–political, economic, and cultural. How he would have despised Clear Channel, Disney, and the NEW YORK TIMES. He’d have called for the restoration of local ownership of newspapers and TV and radio stations; he’d have understood that America’s real enemies are the likes of FRIENDS, Dick Cheney, SEX AND THE CITY, and the typewriter imperialists who know nothing of the real America but serve instead the deeply anti-American Empire.
Bryan, to be sure, would be passionately anti-Iraq War and anti-Patriot Act, but he would also be a stalwart defender of Mel Gibson’s THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST against the hysterical condemnation of the anti-religious corporate media. (Well, okay, Bryan might regard Gibson’s PASSION as a wee bit Catholic for his tastes, but still. Many of us find it grotesque that one can win praise for making films glorifying serial killers, cannibals, and editors of the NEW REPUBLIC, but not our Lord. Jee-zus Christ!)
I do hope Ralph Nader speaks in the great Middle-American Bryanite accent. Defend–nay, champion–the small farm, the small merchant, the laborer, the homemaker, the dreamy poet. Bring the boys home–from Iraq, from Europe, from Korea, from everywhere. Slash the war budget. Cherish the Bill of Rights–including the Second Amendment. Dismantle the Clinton-Bush incipient police state. Attack corporate rule at its very roots: repeal corporate charters, break up the communications giants, eliminate corporate welfare. These are the causes of the America beyond the reach of HBO.
And please, Ralph, go after the folks who voted in 2000 for Bush (who was, you will recall, the candidate promising a “humble” foreign policy against the hawkish Gore).
My county in rural Western New York has been true-blue for the GOP since Abe Lincoln, and I have never heard my Republican neighbors express such doubt, such skepticism, even such open contempt toward a Republican president. These people are “conservative” in a way that the leaders of their party no longer are: that is to say, they prefer governmental powers to be limited and decentralized, and they do not wish to shoulder the burden of empire. The Bushies and their courtiers, who know as little of our history as Janet Jackson knows of Jane Austen, haven’t the faintest idea that Republicans have often been the party of peace and non-interference in foreign wars. As President Benjamin Harrison once remarked, “We have no commission from God to police the world.” Step outside the DC-NYC corridor and you’ll find that millions of Americans agree. And we’re supposed to choose from George W. Bush and John F. Kerry?
We have a choice, dammit.
Run, Ralph, run. Run left, run right, run as constitutionalist liberal, as antiwar patriot, as a man proud to stand in the Bryan-La Follette-Gene McCarthy-Paul Goodman tradition. You’d be surprised at how many Main Street conservatives, disaffected Republicans, and pissed-off libertarians wish you well. Hell, I probably disagree with half your platform but I wish you more than well. As night falls in what used to be America, the bedfellows get ever stranger.
BILL KAUFFMAN’s “Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette: A Mostly Affectionate Account of a Small Town’s Fight to Survive” has just been published by Henry Holt. He can be reached at: email@example.com