It was with reluctance and dread that I hauled my old TV out of the closet to watch the Presidential debate last week. My reflexive loathing for the sight of George Bush’s face and the sound of his voice is so intense that I have managed to restrict my total viewing/listening time in the last four years to probably less than ten minutes. In order to watch this debate I was going to have to sit through an hour and a half of his simpering and smirking and listen to his nasal, hectoring voice repeat his scripted talking points, tautologies, non sequiturs, schizophrenic word salad, and shameless lies over and over again. Also there was the likelihood that I would have to sit in impotent rage as John Kerry failed to make obvious points and rebuttals that any of my friends would make instantly, and far more succinctly and cogently.
My perception of reality is so out of sync with popular opinion that I never have any way of knowing which candidate has “won” a televised debate. Gore supposedly “lost” the debate against Bush because he sighed and rolled his eyes over his opponent’s responses, whereas I would’ve been making the jerk-off motion and smacking my own forehead and interrupting to scream, “Can you believe this shithead?” Lots of people think Bush looks like a bold, decisive, clear-eyed leader when to me he looks like a Rhesus monkey panicking at the controls of a crashing starship. So I really had no idea which way the post-debate spin was going to go. Of course Bush looked like a thin-skinned, petulant, sputtering moron, but he’s looked that way to me in every speech, debate, press conference, and interview he’s done in the last four years. So you can imagine my pleased surprise to learn that, for once, he looked that way to the rest of the world too.
Clearly Bush’s handlers have not done him any favors by completely insulating him from any criticism or doubt for the last four years and exposing him exclusively to professional lickspittles, campaign donors, and pre-screened partisan supporters who’ve all signed loyalty oaths. He has not exactly been toughened up. He could scarcely believe—and invited us, with a helpless half-chuckle, to join in his disbelief—that this guy was actually criticizing him or second-guessing his decisions. I’m told he prepared for this debate by going mountain bike riding and fishing. It now seems like it might have been more useful to prepare by, like, practicing debating. Salon.com pointed out how Bush persistently jumped on the ends of Kerry’s answers to demand time to rebut, but then would blank out and realize he hadn’t thought of what to say. My friend Megan noticed how often he spoke of “hard work,” apparently the campaign’s euphemism for the quagmire in Iraq. My own personal favorite line was when he snapped: “I know bin Laden attacked us. I know that!”—as if just proving he knew it was the point. And this was the debate the Republicans scheduled first, because he was supposed to ace it. The debate on the economy and the dreaded town hall meeting are yet to come. And this week that handsome, youthful Tim Kreider lookalike John Edwards debates that dour old Dick-Tracy-villain lookalike Dick Cheney.
So as of this morning the polls are showing a 49% - 49% split among likely voters. And there is reason to hope that these polls are vastly underrespresenting Kerry voters, since they’re taken among “likely voters,” not newly registered ones, and the Democrats have registered a lot of new voters, especially in minority neighborhoods, who traditionally do not vote for bigots. Also the pollsters don’t call people on their cellphones, which is how pretty much everyone forty communicates now. However, let us not get cocky and overconfident. At this moment I am listening to an NPR interview with a weekly prayer group in Des Moines, Iowa. The value standards by which they interpret and judge modern global political issues come from the tribal laws of desert herdsmen who lived before anyone invented bronze. They are deeply concerned about the “partial-birth abortion kids” and gay marriage. They are “speaking in tongues.” They are talking about The Devil. One woman is weeping to imagine all the people who are going to Hell when Jesus comes back because they did not accept Him into their hearts and get born again. They are literally insane. It is like a recording from a Medieval asylum. These people are voters.
Of course I did not win the Ignatz award for
best online comic. Congratulations to James Kochalka, http://www.americanelf.com/.
And thanks to my supportively bitter friends.