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I did something which no self-respecting radical, philosophizer, or independent mind should ever do: I volunteered my services for a presidential campaign beginning late last year.
This all started on a regularly slow December evening, ending over a delightful rouge from the affordable Petite Récolte series from “Nicolas.” When you live as I do, with little to no money to your name, you know how to fine treasures at 3 Euros a bottle. For American budget travelers to France: remember the Petite Récolte . Anyways, this night was winding down in much the same fashion as any other: discourse about how the “enlightened” Europeans were being rapidly led into the neo-liberal waste bin by the “ignorant” Americans. Sarkozy, Merkel, Brown and even Sweden had swung to the right! At the time, Italy and Spain were the only significant hold outs, and the former’s fragile lefty coalition was quite clearly falling apart.
So the only hope seemed to be that the French still knew how to take to the streets. They elect horrendous leaders, but they handle their social movement business far better than any other country on Earth.
Before going to bed alongside my goût du moment, I quickly checked my e-mail. And there was a message from the Kucinich for President Campaign, wherein he mentioned their need for interns. I responded, half jokingly.
One week later, I received an e-mail from a juvenile-in-charge, who told me to choose between New Hampshire and Nevada for campaigning purposes. This was the biggest no-brainer of my life, as a few days later I was airborne en route to an all-expense paid for vacation in Vegas.
One could say that it’s a bit peculiar to be campaigning for a progressive-leaning candidate in the city of material greed. The majority hippie contingent in the campaign seemed to find the place quite awful, repeating over and over that they were stuck in the “belly of the beast.” Not me! I adore Vegas, because it’s honest capitalism: it breaks the market system down to its most fundamental and comprehensible components, so that every jerk in the universe can understand that they only have a chance in a million at ever doing anything great with their life.
Besides, where else can you be working on a presidential campaign, find yourself rolling around at night jet-lagged, and then just jump up, walk down the hall and buy a slushie margarita for $2 and start playing video poker?
They put us up at the “Palace Station:” a middle of the road joint on the west side of I-15, made famous by the Juice’s latest incursion with the law. I arrive at 4 in the afternoon a few days after New Years, only to find that the person at the front desk had never heard of Kucinich despite the fact that dozens of campaigners were staying there. I try unsuccessfully to get a hold of my contacts, and irritated I decide to check into one of the casino bars. I went with the Irish theme establishment, as little would quench the thirst built up over a marathon day of travel better than a few pints of Guinness.
I soaked down the famous stout over Fitzgerald’s “This Side of Paradise,” his premiere and most revealing novel. He had only just lost his innocence as he recounts the life of Amory Blaine, a child of privilege who ultimately derides the American caste system and hints at a conversion to Socialism. Blaine’s metamorphosis is quite contrived, but perhaps purposely so. I think Fitzgerald is critiquing a bit more than the Princeton elite in this novel; I believe he is also taking a poke at the Gauche Caviar: those who wash their hands of society’s inequalities by artificially cheerleading movements for justice.
While it exists all over the Western world, the American “left” is particularly plagued by this dynamic. Take the Obama campaign for instance: white suburbanites get to feel fuzzy and “open-minded” by voting for this frat boy of a politician. Furthermore, they are inspired into thinking that they are part of an immense moment of change, wherein all the “cool” people are uniting against the forces of evil. Meanwhile, the outside observer scratches his head wondering why this war monger is any different than all of the other psychopaths in Washington. Vote for Obama and he will open the floodgates to social movements, I’m told, even though he derided the ’68 movements in his spirituality-laced load of crap entitled “The Audacity of Hope.”
Unfortunately, this Kucinich campaign was no exception to the rule of the “hip” do-gooder pretending to care. The vast majority of kids involved were so proud of doing something “helpful for humanity” that they lost track of what exactly was going on: they were selling their souls to work for a guy who was part of an imperialist party that excels in selling out votes of the working class to Wall Street.
Dennis and his young English Belle loved the attention: ambitious minds willing to be subservient to their political idols. They could seemingly sense that while still quite young, I am neither ambitious nor subservient, and so Elizabeth, in particular, treated me quite disparagingly from the beginning. I wasn’t there to stroke their ego, and I needed them for nothing. I was doing this because I think that Dennis is the best American legislator, which is far from being any sort of compliment. And I wouldn’t have done it at all if I didn’t get to go to Vegas.
In general, the campaign was made up of kids pasting together their C.V.’s, with hopes of becoming full-fledged political hacks some day. This might explain why Dennis did worse in 2008 than in 2004, and lost nearly 100% of the country’s anti-war sentiment to a Republican (Ron Paul) and an imperialist Democrat (Barack Obama).
But the problem with Dennis’s presidential run goes deeper than Dennis, and goes to the heart of why there is no real “left” in the United States. I feel silly even referring to the “left,” since it’s rare to find an American under 50 that even understands the left-right distinction with any sort of clarity. So instead I will refer to “progressives,” though sometimes I am unsure that I am progressive myself, given some of the nonsense espoused by people identifying themselves as such. What I ran into with Dennis, as with nearly every progressive non-profit in the country, is a swarm of politically correct droids who really scared me shit-less with their remarkable ability to have no sincere emotion and very little original thought. You figure that on occasion you could have a few beers and a real heart-to-heart with someone about what brings them to this candidacy or what they think about the bigger picture and so on, but these campaign goons never lose their plastic façade. It is scarily remarkable! That fake smile I saw plastered over everyone’s young and soul-less face had me wanting to bring Dennis into custody for destroying what could have been ambitious, unique and creative people.
But then I realized that this wasn’t Dennis’s fault; this is a societal problem. Americans never learn how to socialize, since there are very few cultural mores directing social behavior. You add to this the grossly consumerist society bombarded with ads on every ounce of public space, and people find it quite normal to pretend to live. It’s rare to find an American, especially among those under about 50 years old, who ever demonstrate the remotest interest in what you think or believe. They will often show this fake, passing interest in what you say, and, for the sake of being politically correct, will over-exaggerate their enthusiasm for your ideas, but rarely anything sincere.
There was never a moment where I felt that the campaign train wasn’t completely de-railed. There wasn’t even a day that passed where I felt that I had anything meaningful to do. In a state where Ron Paul’s anti-war candidacy finished 2nd, ahead of John McCain, Kucinich was entirely off the map. When I did finally find the occasion to leaflet and talk to potential voters, I found that almost no one had ever heard of him.
It was announced to campaign staff that the ship had sunk as soon as he was denied entry to the last Vegas debate. Meanwhile, he felt so bad for dragging so many “stellar” interns into this pathetic campaign that he decided to invite us to Cleveland to work on the congressional re-election campaign. Normally by this point I would have taken the next Airbus to Paris, but I had gotten myself romantically entangled. While sipping $2 slushie margaritas at the whirlpool, I met an Alaskan delight who was equally fed up as me with the loser-culture around us. Despite the old saying about what happens in Vegas, we decided that we may as well take the free room and board in Cleveland and get to know each other a little better.
Dennis put us up in apartments across from his office on Lorain Avenue in Cleveland Ward 19. These were basic lodgings with basic amenities, though certainly sufficient for their purpose. His part of town, rich in its Irish workingman tradition, has recently become increasingly Middle Eastern in flavor, as markets and restaurants reflecting this trend have popped up throughout. Cleveland, infamous for its inflamed river and rampant poverty, has all sorts of hidden treasures. Furthermore, it is culturally what I am used to, being a native of Chicago: no-nonsense working class Catholics. Because of the early Lenten schedule this year, we were campaigning right in the middle of fish fry time: marching into people’s Friday evening suppers with the famous yellow “Dennis!” placards, stickers and buttons, most often to cheers by his avid supporters.
Dennis is certainly not just another congressman. It is rare in the United States to find an elected official who is so well-known and appreciated by his constituency. Almost everyone you would talk to at labor rallies or church picnics would have some touching Dennis story, or know someone who knew one of his brothers or some third degree of connection to Cleveland’s populist hero.
This is to say that for how backwards and absent-minded his presidential campaign was, his local grassroots effort was on track. Much of the reason for this has to do with the work of his labor-friendly campaign staff, including the alpha male and former MUNY Light union head, Greg Somerville. Greg’s connection with Dennis goes back to the former Boy Mayor’s unsuccessful attempt to save the public utility system, as the local banking elite forced the city into default to damn his efforts. Among labor leaders and movement makers, Dennis became a hero, and it is this connection that has cemented his seat in the congress as the nation’s most principled legislator.
I was like a pig in shit working with these blue collar Midwesterners. Greg would make fun of the holdovers from the presidential race, calling them “wa-hoos” and “wackos.” He referred to that campaign as “the biggest drum circle on Earth.” He was the first person I had met in weeks who was saying exactly what was on his mind. For the first time since passing customs, I felt like I was in a free country, and that I wouldn’t be hauled into P.C.-prison for expressing an emotion or heart-felt sentiment.
It is of little surprise that this is the culture that has actually elevated Dennis to power. It is built of real people looking out for their own interest. This isn’t people pretending to care about the world because it’s a la mode. This is a movement of people in the heartland making sure that their man in Washington is, indeed, one of their own.
It should also be of no surprise that the best legislator in the country comes from the Midwest and not from one of the trendy west coast cities. Instead, the west coast has given us this tragic culture of politically correct, which destroys any semblance of intelligent debate in the Land of the Free. The P.C.-industry has grown to silly proportions. Rather than attack societal ills with actual change in the direction of racial and class equality, we pretend to by watching what we say and keeping data on what races are applying for what jobs.
That is what these bourgeois movements for “change” have produced in the United States: “nonsense upon stilts.” These are the words used by Jeremy Bentham to describe a similar phenomenon of his day: giving people “rights” rather than guaranteeing them liberty and equality. The Rights discourse and the culture of politically correct are both adaptations made for idiot societies in order that the government can continue to persecute with only a small minority realizing it. You convince everybody that they live in a free country by telling them that they have the right to free speech, whilst you do everything in your power to treat the words of dissenters as disparagingly as possible. This is easy to do when only the top .1% of the wealth has access to the air waves.
In the end, March 4th, the Ohio primary, came with expectations of victory by the incumbent over the pro-business punk of an Alderman, Mr. Joe Cimperman. In the end, the vote total for Dennis was a bit worrisome, as he barely eclipsed the 50% threshold in a 5-way race (there were three small candidacies in addition to Dennis and Cimperman). Nonetheless, he hung on to his seat for another two years, fending off the fate faced by his friend Cynthia McKinney on two occasions.
I wobbled out of Cleveland alongside my new goût du moment, still caught in Vegas mode, and headed to her abode in Alaska. On the outskirts of Fairbanks, I was able to only passively listen to the ongoing charade of an election. Friends and family throughout the nation were caught in heated discussion over the Obama vs. Clinton drama. Me? I could care less if Obama wins in November, or if Hillary found a way to steal the Democratic nomination. It’s of little consequence to anybody. Until we build a movement, get out of the paralysis of politically correct thinking, and take to the streets like our brothers and sisters in France, Americans will continue to live as droids. People need to stop blinding themselves with the fog of this damn election and start taking their country back from the pits of this neo-liberal hell.
MATT REICHEL normally teaches English to French businessmen, though he is currently teaching French to Americans in the great Northwest. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org