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Wednesday, October 27, 2004
By Paul Ford
We're going on 18 years now, give or take a few, 18 years of constant recriminations and condemnations, assassination attempts, and meaningless rallies. Both of the candidates look exhausted, gaunt. There was an article in the Times about how each of their “handshake hands” is prematurely arthritic and always swollen; their supplies of neckties are dwindling, as is the supply of talking points. Both of them, in my opinion, are lost men, wandering through this country; their staffs have dwindled into the dozens, and their jets are falling apart. Neither will give in, and I admire them, when I think of them, for pressing on.
There's no historical precedent for this, for the eternal election. If we were in a war, we could look back to past wars and know how to temper our patriotism. If this were a depression, we could rally together and work together for economic change. But instead we live in democratic gloom, eternally poised between statistical possibilities, waiting for the chance to vote. That chance never comes. The reasons we cannot vote yet have become less and less sane, I think; at first, there were terrorists, and then extreme hurricanes, and the computer glitches. Then some turtles got into the ballot boxes in Kansas. Now they don't even bother with excuses; they just give the delay report on television, telling us their best estimates as to when we might vote again, and move onto the entertainment news.
I think what it shows us is that a nation can get used to anything, and take it in stride: over 60% of the national economy is tied up in the creation of negative campaign ads; another 30% is litigation. The children born at the beginning of this campaign are starting college; eventually they too will be campaigning themselves. They've spent their lives learning about the process, watching democracy at work. That must have a beneficial effect, at some level (I heard a minister say that this era is a blessing, because it teaches us that life is in the struggle, not the victory).
All said, these years of waiting for the boards to sign off, for the litigation to complete, for the Supreme Court to be removed from their vats of gray rejuvenating pudding and once again preside--it has been tiring.
What bothers me most is something trivial, something that shouldn't worry me, but there you have it—it's the pollsters under the sink. There was another infestation last week, and I had to call the landlord. He was testy. “What are you doing?” he asked. “Are you undecided now? Is that why they're there?” I told him that, no, I was exactly the same as I ever was. He came over, shaking his head and swearing, and sprayed in the cabinets, ignoring their scuffling and shrieks, their requests for just a moment of our time. He also put poison in the walls, and I believe that will kill them, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3%.