[Editor's note: The Tyee will run responses to the U.S. election every day this week.]
The name given to this occasional TV column was Forced to Watch. Never more horribly appropriate. Television just doesn't get more horrific and excruciating than it did on the evening of November 2. Sort of like Fear Factor, only in this version you face your fear of wild animals by being stalked, chased down, ripped apart, eaten, and digested. Learning valuable lessons along the way, natch.
For me the weirdest thing has been my reaction to Bush since the election. Intellectually, my fear and loathing remained intact. But somewhere in my psyche I was feeling strange reflexive responses I didn't understand. There were unexplained bursts of sympathy. Some part of me was involuntarily trying to embrace the smirking man at the presidential podium. Just as Americans tend to rally around their leader once he's been chosen, some urge in me was yearning to bridge the gap.
I located the urge, strangled it, and dumped it into a rain-filled trench. But I knew what it was. It was battle fatigue. It was a deep longing for psychological rest after four years of watching every event, parsing every development, peering at every poll to gauge Bush's chance of reelection. On some level I just wanted it to be over, to believe that it all didn't matter.
It mattered. Not just because of the next four years and the prospect of boneheaded developments yet unknown. It mattered just as much because of the election itself. Like his father before him, George W. Bush and his political henchmen ran the kind of campaign that must plunge any reasonable soul into suicidal depression, IV drug use, or sexaholism. Bush campaigns are like portraits of America rendered by a coroner, with every tumour and clogged artery laid bare.
He'd got his Daddy's lies
It's tempting to attribute the ugliness of Dubya's fear-and-lies attack with his hard-line religious convictions. The evangelical attitude is extremist by nature—either you're in the Jesus Club or you're eternally burning toast. Bush has reshaped the American political landscape in the meat-cleaver style of his chosen faith.
But then, what would be his Daddy's excuse? George Herbert Walker Bush was no evangelical, but he gained the White House in much the same way as his progeny.
These days if people think of the first President Bush it is to compare him favorably with Dubya. Not many recall the stunning viciousness of the election that began the family dynasty. The late Lee Atwater, now gone to prepare a place for Karl Rove, was already famous for running campaigns that were no-holds barred ugly. But this would be his crowning glory. Focusing on the now familiar simple-minded liberal bashing, Bush Sr. masqueraded as a right-wing avenger while railing against pinkos who would burn the American flag (a proposed constitutional amendment against flag burning was that year's version of the no-gay-marriage amendment) and prevent kiddies from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance before every meal.
The most famous tactic was also familiar—a mysterious ad placed by an "independent" political group. This was the infamous Willy Horton ad, which implied that Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis would throw open America's prison doors and allow every black buck a free shot at trembling white women everywhere. Like the Swift Boats Veterans for Truth, the perpetrators of the Willy Horton ad were officially separate from the Bush campaign.
So it would seem that this breathtaking political cynicism is a family tradition. Certainly it's a Republican one—it was nice to see the Family Channel, of all outlets, airing All the President's Men this weekend as a timely reminder that Republicans were perfecting their dirty tricks back when the current president was still busy avoiding military service.
How bad can it get?
Karl Rove may be the best rat-fucker yet. His tactics make Atwater look like the Marquise of Queensbury. A recent article in the Atlantic Monthly details politics a la Rove—he is alleged to have started a whispering campaign suggesting that a political opponent was a pedophile.
And it works. It worked in 1988, and it worked in 2004. That's the real rub for me, regardless of what the result portends. Bush and Rove and the almost cartoonishly execrable Dick Cheney have proved once more that when it comes to politics, truth, justice and the American Way are currently incompatible.
Some say that Bush will get his comeuppance in the second term when things go horribly wrong for him. But how much wronger could things get? He's already a proven failure in every area of governance, not to mention a confirmed, bald-faced liar. Voters didn't care. Now that he has lowered public expectations to the point where Exxon Valdez captain Joseph Hazelwood should seriously consider a run for President, what could Bush possibly do to disappoint the American voter in future?
No, the man is home-free. The next four years will be one prolonged monkey-faced smirk.
God, what I'd give for a hockey game.
Steve Burgess reviews the screen, small and sometimes large, for The Tyee. We'll be running responses to the U.S. election ever day this week.